Late To The Party : “Ouija”


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I was thinking of sub-titling this review “What To Expect When You’re Expecting Nothing,” or something equally less-than-clever, but it just seemed too damn obvious — I mean, how many of us were expecting 2014’s Ouija to actually be any good?

Let’s face it — Hasbro inking a deal with Michael Bay’s Plantinum Dunes to make a series of movies based on their various board games is probably a pretty stupid idea for a number of reasons — not the least of which is that Clue probably just plain can’t be topped in the “best-board-game-movie-of-all-time” category — but what can I say? While there was no way in hell I was going to spring to see Ouija when it was out in theaters, I added it to my Netflix DVD queue when it came out simply because I like to punish myself from time to time by sticking my head into the toilet bowl of PG-13 “horror.” I guess I’m just masochistic like that.

All that being said, director Stiles White (who co-wrote the film’s screenplay along with Juliet Snowden) manages to under-perform here even though the bar was set exeptionally low. We’ve all seen the “malignant spirit haunts teenagers” trope done to death, to be sure, but rarely is everyone so clearly and plainly going through the motions as they are in Ouija. It’s like somebody figured out how to put celluloid on Xanax and then sat back to see what the end result would be.

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Speaking of Xanax,  Olivia Cooke, of sleazy prime-time soap Bates Motel, certainly looks and acts like she’s on it — she absolutely can’t carry a film, as she ably demonstrates in her starring turn here as nominal heroine Laine Morris. She has precisely one facial expression — the “concerned as shit” look — and can’t even manage to get away from it entirely when she’s supposed to be smiling and looking happy. Not that she’s got a whole lot to be happy about, mind you, given that her best friend, Debbie Galardi (Shelley Hennig) apparently just killed herself after playing around with a Ouija board (hint to Hasbro, by the way — if the primary goal of your newfound motion picture enterprise is to move more of your product, as I’m assuming it is, suggesting that said product actually works in terms of conjuring up evil ghosts maybe isn’t the smartest idea). So, like any intrepid young protagonist, the charisma-free zone that is Laine decides that she’ll get her boyfriend, Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), their friend Isabelle (Bianca A, Santos), and dead Debbie’s (now ex-, I suppose) boyfriend,  Pete (Douglas Smith) together to hold a seance at the scene of the crime. When her perpetual-pain-in-the-ass younger sister, Sam (Ana Coto), proves once again that she can’t be left home alone while their dad is out of town, she gets dragged along to the party, as well.

I fucked around with Ouija boards plenty when I was younger, but one thing this flick taught (a term I use very loosely, I assure you) me is that if you look through the plastic-coated hole in the center of the planchette, you’re supposed to be able to see whatever ghost it is you’ve disturbed from their slumber. Laine certainly sees one, and from there on out, our plucky young crew is put through the dullest, most un-involving “living hell” you’re ever likely to see play out before your eyes — suffice to say, the haunted shit they’re all being subjected to ties in to a (yawn!) ghastly crime committed at Debbie’s house many years ago. And in order for the spirits to rest, they’ve gotta (yawn again!) put things right.

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Further details are probably pointless here, but that’s okay — so is the movie itself. I’ve been sitting here scratching my head trying to think of one thing Ouija has to recommend in its favor, but I gotta be honest — I’m drawing a complete blank. The acting’s bad, the story’s stupid and predictable, the “scares” are anything but scary, and the whole thing is a rancid mess.

That may sound harsh, but trust me when I say that, if anything, I’m actually underselling how genuinely lame this thing is. I almost didn’t even bother to review it because it was too easy a target, but I figured that if I could warn off at least one other person from seeing it, then I could chalk it up as my good deed for the day.Sure, the picture and sound quality on the DVD are both fine (I can’t really comment on the extras because the disc I got from Netflix was one of those “bare-bones” rental versions, sorry), but so what? It’s a brand new movie, the technical specs should be flawless.

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So — what do you get when you go into a movie expecting nothing? In the case of Ouija, precisely that.

Netflix Halloween 2014 : “You’re Next”


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Okay, so here’s the deal : over at my “main” site — http://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com , for those up you not aware — I’m spending the month of October looking at various horror flicks currently available in Netflix’s instant streaming queue. So far there have been some semi-winners, some semi-losers, and some real clunkers, but I promised myself that if I ever found one that was an absolute, indisputable home run, I’d write about here on TTSL and thereby hopefully spread the word about it a bit father and wider than a post on my blog alone would accomplish. I’m pleased to say I’ve found just such a film.

I’m not sure why or how I missed “splat back”/”mumblegore” director Adam Wingard’s 2011 offering, You’re Next, when it hit theaters — I certainly found the ads for it intriguing and meant to go check it out, but I never did. My loss — but not anymore, since I finally caught it the other night and damn, was I impressed.

Seriously, this has everything you want in a horror movie : an involving premise, a few characters you want to see live, even more you’d love to see die, plenty of first-rate gore, suspense, intrigue, and all kinds of ass-kicking. You might ask for more, I suppose,  if you’re picky, but come on — how often do you get it?

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Anyway, friends, you know how it goes — you’re gathered together for a family reunion full of not-so-subtle tension and disdain (think the kind of situation where everyone would be stabbing each other in the back, except for the fact that they’re doing it out in the open), when suddenly assailants in animal masks armed with crossbows start firing away and, presto! Next thing you know, you’re all under siege and fighting for your lives.

What? That’s never happened to you? Well, it’s what happens to the family here (who, curiously enough, are never given a last name), a very well-heeled clan who have gathered at their family’s palatial “summer estate” to celebrate their mother and father’s 35th wedding anniversary. Roll call : there’s struggling- academic brother Crispian (AJ Bowen) and his Aussie girlfriend, Erin (Sharni Vison); douchebag brother Drake (Joe Swanberg) and his wife, Kelly (Sarah Myers); younger douchebag brother Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and his emo/goth “squeeze,” Zee (Wendy Glenn); darling baby sister Aimee (Amy Seimetz);  and presiding over the whole houseful of ungrateful, self-centered whelps we have dad Paul (Rob Moran) and mom Aubrey (the still-drop-dead-gorgeous Barbara Crampton). We get to know each of these characters just enough to give the first half-hour or so a strong dose of Woody Allen-esque upper-class dysfunction when the shit starts hitting the fan.

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And when it hits, boy does it ever. Aside from the mere fact that it’s gleeful fun (well, at least for me) to see members of the 1% finally get what’s coming to them,  Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett are to be commended for not taking their collective foot off the gas pedal until the end credits are rolling, and while we quickly learn that only Erin has the smarts and guts to survive the situation thanks to her weird survivalist upbringing in the Outback, the other character revelations along the way come in measured steps and and at just the right points (usually as a means of breaking up what would otherwise be a non-stop  series of creatively brutal slayings). Still, you probably won’t see the end coming, simply because you’ll figure you’ve got the whole thing sussed out already — even though, trust me, you don’t.

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To be completely fair, I do have some relatively minor gripes with said ending — I think there was a way Wingard could have made it even more shocking, but shit, I’m not gonna complain. The conclusion he serves up is still a doozy even if it’s not exactly the one I would have gone for. If I think I’m so fucking good at this kind of thing, then maybe I should just go and direct my own movie, right?

Add in fun little cameos from the likes of fellow “new horror” icon Ti West and some wink-and-nudge homages to other genre classics, throw in a throbbing musical score that’s more than just a bit reminiscent of Goblin (hold your horses, I’m not saying it’s as good as Goblin, only that it’s stylistically similar to their justly- legendary efforts), keep the blood flowing, and you’ve got a recipe for a sure winner. Whatever you’re doing right now can wait — if you’ve got a Netflix subscription, You’re Next deserves your immediate attention.

 

 

Halloween Horrors 2013 : “Self Storage”


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Sometimes even a movie with very little to recommend for it still has — well, something to recommend for it. Such is the case with this year’s direct-to-video, shot-on-HD indie horror effort Self Storage,  a largely pathetic, unmemorable, boringly amoral (more on that before we’re through) piece of — uhhmm, work —- written and directed by, and starring, the supremely untalented Tom DeNucci.

Shot in Rhode Island, this is one of those flicks that’s pretty hard to see having much of an audience beyond the friends and immediate family of anyone involved in its production, being that every single character in it’s a complete douchebag, the blood n’ guts are both fairly tame and poorly realized, and its somewhat inventive premise is buried under layer upon layer of incompetent execution.

First, the particulars of the plot : go-nowhere pothead Jake (the aforementioned DeNucci) works as a security guard at a mini-storage facility. His friends, a half-assed assemblage of walking caricatures (the slut, the hot chick, the good girl, the horn-dog guy who gets a lot of pussy, the two other horn dog guys who get no pussy and are hopeless porn addicts) want to party at his workplace one night and figure it should be no sweat because Jake actually lives on the premises, as well. He says no at first, then says yes when he learns that his asshole boss (Eric Roberts) and flunky right-hand man (Micheal Berryman, whose name might not ring a bell to anyone but die-hard horror fans, but who even most casual viewers will recognize instantly thanks to The Hills Have EyesThe Devil’s Rejects, and too many other flicks to mention — in short, he’s the tall, bald, weird-lookin’ dude) have cut some kind of shady deal with a local black marketeer (Jonathan Silverman — -speaking of supremely untalented), and intend to shut the place down the next day when they’re good and rich and fire their deadbeat part-timer’s ass in a heartbeat.

So — the party’s on, but everyone but Jake and his sweetheart get killed because the “big deal” that’s going down is a massive sale of kidnapped coeds for the purportedly thriving underground body parts and organs trade. Jake accidentally melts the folks who have already been kidnapped in an acid shower — long story — and finds that he and his dickhead friends have been tapped as replacements.

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Yeah, I know — it sounds kinda creepy/interesting yet hopelessly stupid at the same time. Rest assured, dear reader, that the “hopelessly stupid” part of the equation wins the day in a hurry and you’ll be hoping against hope for everyone — even (and maybe especially) our purported “hero ” —  to get killed both gruesomely and quickly. Unfortunately, things take a long time to get going, and aren’t very interesting once they do. DeNucci’s film is that rarest of things, then — a story about people you’re aching to see get murdered that bores you so fucking much that you don’t even end up caring how, when, or even if they die — you want ’em too, sure, but actively giving a damn is just too much effort.

So what about that whole “dully amoral” thing, then? Well, Jake ends up pocketing the take for his dead pals’ organs in the end, and rides off into the sunset with his ladyfriend, and I guess the two live happily ever after on the gruesome loot they’ve procured on the deceased bodies of their friends. Could be shocking, I suppose, if handled correctly, but it’s such a garbled mess that you honestly wonder if DeNucci even considered the ethical implications of his tasteless finale or if he just wrapped things up quickly because he didn’t know what the hell else to do at that point. The end result? It all falls pretty flat — just like the preceding 90-or-so minutes.

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Still, as I mentioned at the outset, Self Storage has at least one thing going for it — Eric Roberts, who’s clearly in the “anything for a buck” phase of his career at this point. I don’t know about you, but if my script called for a psychotic cheeseball Viet Nam vet who owns a mini-storage business and trades in impromptu homemade (and fatal) surgery on the side, he’d be the first guy I’d call. And he certainly doesn’t disappoint here, hamming it up with the kind of overstated, fourth-wall-busting relish that makes his turn as the villainous Master in 1996’s Doctor Who TV movie look subtle by comparison. He’s a lot of fun to watch, and is clearly pushing the envelope of what he can get away with simply because he knows his chickenshit kid director doesn’t have the balls to step in and tell him to at least try to play it straight. I have a weird kind of respect for anyone willing to piss in his boss’s face so brazenly, and so I tip my hat to Mr. Roberts for  clearly communicating with his outrageous performance exactly what he thinks of this steaming pile of dogshit he’s working on. Thanks for the money, ya snot-nosed little punk, now shut up, get the fuck out of my way, and let me do what I do best.

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Beyond that, though, this is a movie with less than nothing going for it. Don’t waste your time and/or money picking it up on Blu-Ray or DVD, to be sure — and if you absolutely must watch it in spite of my dire warnings, then catch it on Netflix’s instant streaming queue, like I did. But honestly — you’re just better off leaving the whole thing alone and just trusting me when I say that Roberts is a blast to watch, but Self Storage is in no way worth sitting through just to see him ooze sleaze and disrespect for his (temporary) employers unless you’re really bored, stoned, or both.

Halloween Horrors 2013 : “Carrie” (1976)


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Over at my “main” site — http://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com , for those who don’t know, don’t care, either, or both — I’ve been doing what every other goddamn movie blog in the universe does in the month of October: namely, review a bunch of random horror flicks. But come on — you didn’t think I was just gonna sit back and let Lisa Marie, Arleigh, Leonard Wilson, and everybody else have all the fun here on TTSL, did you?

Nah. I just had to muscle in and opine on a few macabre movie delights on these digital “pages” before the month was out, as well. And I might as well start with the one everybody’s talking about right now, Carrie, the 1976 classic directed, in his inimitable style, by Brain DePalma, based on the runaway best-seller by Stephen King, and starring Sissy Spacek as quite likely the most hapless horror heroine in history.

This film is significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it was the first King “property” to be adapted for the big screen, thus announcing the arrival of a major new player on the scene who would go on, of course, to have a veritable industry of celluloid “translations” of his work sprout up over the ensuing decades, some of which were clearly — oh, wait, people these days are talking about a different Carrie altogether? One that just came out last week?

Well, I saw that one, too, but fuck it — I feel like reviewing this one first.

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Let’s backtrack to that “horror’s most hapless heroine” claim for a minute, shall we? It might sound like a bold claim, but I swear it’s true — think about it for a minute : poor Carrie White starts the movie by having her first period in the shower at school, she thinks she’s dying because her religious whack-job of a mom is too chickenshit to tell her about menstruation, she gets teased mercilessly by all the girls who witness her uncomfortable (to say the least) entry into womanhood, she has no friends to speak of, she’s stuck with a bunch of telekinetic powers that she doesn’t understand or know how to effectively control, she’s the butt of every cruel joke her classmates play, she has to listen to her idiot mother blather nonsense 24/7,  she gets invited to the prom as by the most popular kid in school strictly as an act of misguided charity, and then, just when she’s granted one moment of respite from the nonstop parade of tragedy that comprises her existence when she’s crowned world’s most unlikely  prom queen, she gets a bucket full of pig blood dumped all over her, freaks out and kills everybody with her “mind powers,” and goes home from the best/worst night of her life to find that mommie dearest has decided to kill her in Jesus’ name.

Talk about a gal who just can’t catch a break.

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Sure, it all seems a bit over the top — okay, it all is a bit over the top — but DePalma pulls out all the stops to draw you into this sordid little world of revival tent-reject parents (Piper Laurie), evil high school bitches (Nancy Allen), pussy-whipped wannabe-tough guys (John Travolta), well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual teachers (Betty Buckley), semi-guilt-ridden classmates (Amy Irving), jocks with out of control white-guy ‘fros (William Katt), and grounds the whole heady mixture in a turn-for-the-ages performance by Spacek that really makes you feel for the poor kid even — maybe especially — when she finally snaps. His always-stylish-and-inventive use of sound, split screen, and slow-burn tension keep you pretty well fixated on the proceedings throughout, and all in all you’ve just gotta say this still holds up as a pretty impressive cinematic achievement.

Of course, King hit on a fairly inventive little gimmick from the outset here — plenty of horror stories, fairy tales, fables, and probably even  nursery rhymes are little more than thinly-disguised metaphors for the onset of puberty and the scary transition from childhood into the ‘adult” world, but here he just dispensed with the pretense and doubled-down by ripping the mask off and piling the real, actual, non-metaphorical point on top of the , as we say in modern parlance, “genre trappings,” and as a result ended up penning a scary story for the ages.

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Classic visuals — you know, like the one reproduced directly above — hammer the point home in memorable fashion, to be sure, and what Carrie lacks in subtlety it definitely makes up for in sheer, shock-ya-senseless power. Audiences went wild for this flick back in ’76, and while that might not be saying much because they also went apeshit for every cheesy “patriotic” bicentennial gimmick, knick-knack, gee-gaw, and useless item of “home decor” that came out that year, in this case they were absolutely right — this is a nifty little barnburner of a movie that has aged as well as any wine you care to mention.

Carrie is aviailable on DVD and Blu-Ray from MGM, and it’s also currently playing on Netflix’s instant streaming queue, where it can be found under no less than three category headers — “horror,” “Halloween favorites,” and “cult movies.” So go check it out already — or check it out again already, as the case may be — and we’ll talk about that other  movie with the same title next time around.

Grindhouse Classics : “Pick-Up”


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One word that doesn’t usually (if ever) come to mind when you’re talking about the drive-in fare churned out by Crown International Pictures in the 1970s is weird.

Yeah, okay, fair enough — I suppose just about any CIP flick looks a little bit “weird” to a contemporary audience, given that they’re all very much  products of their time, but honestly, pretty much everything released under their banner boils down, story-wise,  to a simple morality play with a generous helping of sex (always) and violence (sometimes) thrown in — and more often than not, as with most exploitation fare, the most common themes in the Crown back catalog are “don’t set your sights above your station in life” and “don’t talk to strangers.”

At first glance, 1975’s Pick-Up, directed (and produced, and shot, and edited) by Bernard Hirschenson, would appear to fit comfortably into the “don;t talk to strangers” category, since it’s the story of two footloose-and-fancy-free hippie chicks named Carol (Jill Senter) and Maureen (Gini Eastwood — no relation, at least that I know of, to you-know-who), who hitch a ride across Florida with a far-out guy named Chuck (Alan Long) who is, like them, at loose ends and just “taking in what the world has to offer, one day at a time, man” in his fuck-pad RV.

Come on — he’s gotta be trouble, right? I mean, he’s an Aries, and according to the supposedly-metaphysically-tuned-in Maureen, Aries guys are bad news these days because of some state of flux going on in the universe or something. Still, the girls hop in for a ride anyway —

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Trouble eventually does come their way, but Chuck isn’t the cause. After a deluge, the RV gets stuck in the Everglades mud, and that’s when things, as I promised at the outset, get weird. Chuck and Carol get busy screwing their brains out, but Maureen in between reading star charts and tarot cards and having waking (and sleeping) visions of her childhood, is visited by Pythia, a priestess of Apollo, who gives her a sacred dagger for some reason or other. And if you think that sounds strange, wait until the slimy politician and latex-faced clown show up.

Okay, yeah, none of this makes a tremendous amount of narrative sense — or even common sense — but it sure is interesting. It turns out that Maureen was molested by a priest as a child (guess they were into girls in the ’70s) and this is at the root of her psychological disturbances, which culminate in quite possibly the most bizarre  scene (of many contenders) in the film, where she and Chuck finally “make it” on a stone altar with the clown, the politician, and the priestess watching on. And all this right after Chuck kills a wild boar (be warned, this film does feature genuine animal slaughter, although hardly of Cannibal Holocaust proportions) What does it all mean? Who knows. And honestly, who really cares? Pick-Up was clearly made with the stoner crowd in mind and, frankly, was probably made by members of the stoner crowd, as well. It’s all good, man. Just go with the flow.

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There are some notable things to point out in relation to this film while we have a moment — the Florida Everglades locations are authentic, and were probably an absolute bitch to film in (good thing everybody was probably high), and both Senter and Eastwood are not only reasonably talented actresses, but absolutely gorgeous, as well — yet neight ever made another film. Go figure.

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Like most of the Crown stuff we’ve covered both here and at my “main” site — http://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com , for those of you who don’t know — Pick-Up is available on Mill Creek’s 12-disc, 32-movie “Drive-In Cult Classics” DVD boxed set collection. There are no extras, but the remastered widescreen transfer looks surprisingly crisp and clean and the mono sound is, at the very least, perfectly adequate. This may not be the best film in the collection by any stretch, nor is it the most fun, but it’s definitely one of the most interesting, and it’s well worth the 80 minutes of your life it takes to watch it.

Enough With The “Bates Motel” Stuff Around Here, How About Some “Mayhem Motel” ?


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Don’t get me wrong, folks — by and large I kinda like Bates Motel, and I certainly enjoy reading Lisa Marie’s write-ups on each episode here on TSSL, but let’s not kid ourselves —- that show is a soap opera less- than- cleverly-concealed beneath some standard horror genre trappings. You can, of course, say the same for The Walking Dead, another show which I also dig for the most part, but it’s high time we stopped pretending either of these were anything but — well, crap. Enjoyable crap, sure, but crap nonetheless. And I’m certainly not above enjoyin’ me some crap.

Writer/director Karl Kempter’s 2001 shot-on-video offering Mayhem Motel, for instance. This is most definitely crap — hell, it’s even weird crap, disgusting crap, nauseating crap (less than five minutes into the proceedings a character billed in the credits as “Pukey” throws up in a bathtub — for real — and then proceeds to sit down in his own regurgitated mess), but then, it never pretends to be anything else. There are no affectations  here toward “quality character drama,” Kempter isn’t fooling himself that his film has anything “important” to say, and in fact there’s no real story here to speak of at all, just a series of vignettes centered around a bunch of degenerate fuckwads and various other products of the gene pool’s decidedly shallow end who all happen to be staying (perhaps at the same time, perhaps not — it’s never made clear and frankly doesn’t matter anyway) at the same fleabag motel.

I don’t know about you, but I find that refreshing lack of anything even remotely approaching an agenda to be a strangely noble thing.

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It also means that Mayhem Motel  is both a difficult movie to explain, and an easy one to review — plot recaps are completely unnecessary since there literally is no plot, but at the same time simply saying “you’ve really just gotta see it and decided for yourself” sounds like something of a cop-out, even though — well, you really do just gotta see it and decide for yourself. There’s definitely not much of anything resembling a “point” to be taken away from this at-times-self-consciously-weird-for-its-own-sake string of mish-mashed, completely unrelated events — apart from maybe some vague overall suggestion that sex with strangers can get ya killed — and most (okay, all) of the scenes seem more designed to provoke some sort of visceral reaction (even if it’s only “okay, what exactly was that all about?”)  from the audience rather than actually involving you in them, but what the hell — it certainly makes for a one-of-a-kind 70-minute viewing experience.

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What I can’t say with any certainty, however, is whether or not it’s actually a good one — that’s up to you. The movie’s a mass of contradictions — I mentioned that’s it’s both unpretentious and self-consciously-weird-for-its-own-sake, and trust me, both are true — but the acting (roughly half the parts are played by a guy named Matthew Biancaniello, the other almost-half by a woman named Sara Berkowitz) is of a generally high standard for this type of production (i.e. one shot for a reported $22,000), the lighting is uniformly interesting (if not uniformly effective), and in between the midget, the floating plastic Easter eggs, the guy with a tracheotomy, and the blow-up rubber fuck doll, Kempter really does succeed in creating both a sleazy and genuinely otherworldly atmosphere here. And besides, we ll know that most people will do just about anything for money, but seeing what they’re willing to do for no money is so much more interesting.

So yeah — it’s fair to say that Mayhem Motel does what it sets out to do, I just can’t say whether or not what it sets out to do is really worth doing. That’s a purely subjective call, and while I enjoyed it for what it was, I can certainly see why some folks might turn this off a few minutes after the opening credits. I’m not prepared to say this is one of those things you’re either gonna absolutely love or absolutely hate — like, say, White Castle hamburgers — since I don’t see it as being able to elicit strong reactions along either of the emotional poles like that, but you’re either gonna find it interesting or completely pointless.

Or, perhaps, both interesting and completely pointless.

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Mayhem Motel is available on DVD either as a stand-alone release from Brain Damage films (I can’t speak to its technical specs or any extras on that version as I haven’t seen it), or as part of the “Decrepit Crypt Of Nightmares” 50-film, 12-disc box set from Pendulum Pictures, the Mill Creek sub-label that specializes in zero-budget indie and homemade horror. That’s how I caught it and it’s presented full-frame with fairly lousy stereo sound (something of a surprise since Kempter apparently makes his living as a sound mixing guy on various other projects) and no special features or other frills of any sort. Considering the whole package retails for no more than twenty bucks, whaddaya want, anyway? I’d say give it a go if you’re feeling adventurous —  beyond that, you’re on your own.

“Alienator” : Fred Olen Ray Gives “The Terminator” A Sex Change


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Give Fred Olen Ray credit — the guy’s a survivor. While his name has never been attached to a genuine B-movie classic — although Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers definitely has its fans — he’s found a way to remain, if not exactly relevant, at least employed for decades now and has , according to official IMDB totals, written 56 films, produced 80, starred in 143, and directed a staggering 128! Granted, directing 128 movies isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds when most have two-or three-day production schedules, but still —

Anyway, Fred seems to be settling comfortably into the tail end of his career now helming SyFy network made-for-TV numbers and “Skinemax” fare such as Busty Housewives Of Beverly Hills, but back in the late ’80s/early ’90s the straight-to-video market was  wide open territory for low-budget mavens such as himself and he was more than willing to help blaze the  magnetic tape trail once the celluloid one he’d been treading previously dried and crinkled up with the demise of the drive-ins and downtown exploitation houses that had helped put food on his table (and we’ll get back to gastronomic analogies at the end of this review, just you wait and see!). A true visionary never gives up, he just gives it his best in another venue, right?

Unfortunately, even Fred’s best was never all that great, and the movie in our proverbial crosshairs today, 1990’s Alienator is far from his best indeed, although you’d never know it based on its drop-dead awesome premise, to wit : a supposedly evil intergalactic criminal genius/madman named Kol  (Ross Hagen) is about to be executed on a distant spaceship-prison thingie but , of course, manages to affect a semi-daring escape in a shuttle that  eventually crash-lands in a forest on Earth. There he makes friendly with a  park ranger (who’s got  the park ranger-iest name you’ll ever come across),  Ward Armstrong (John Phillip Law) and a bunch of annoying teenagers, but little do Kol and his new-found comrades suspect that the spaceship commander (named, simply, “Commander,” and played by Jan-Michael “anything for a buck” Vincent) from whose deadly clutches he managed to free himself has sent a Terminator-esque super-tracker after him, the ultra-deadly — and titular — Alienator herself!

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Yes, I said herself — the Alienator, you see, is played by a female ( I think, at any rate, although it wouldn’t surprise me if she had some chromosomal issues going on, and I wouldn’t bet on her ability to pass an Olympic-style genetic screening test) bodybuilder who went by the snappy one-word name of Teagan at this, the apex (such as it was) of her career. She’s basically a cyborg — or maybe android, I never could tell the the difference — chick in a metal bikini who is damn hard to kill and displays, as you’d expect, the emotional range and affect of, say, a walnut. A single-minded killing machine with what appears for all intents and purposes to be a giant pair of binoculars on her boobs, arms that are thicker than my legs, and legs that are thicker than the trunk of the tree in my backyard. Are you afraid yet? You should be — but not so much of the Alienator her(him? it?)self as the unfortunate movie that bears her name.

I know, I know — you read about it on paper (or, as the case may be, your computer screen) and think to yourself “my God, how can you go wrong here?,” but trust me, friends, you can — this flick is a drag. All the actors play it disarmingly straight when by all rights they should be hamming things up, the pacing is dull as toasted rye, and the special effects aren’t good enough to be — well, good — but aren’t bad enough to be hysterical. In short, it’s all an exercise in sleepwalking, “get-it-in-the-can”-style movie-making, and can barely hold your interest despite the fact that by all rights it sure should given its appealingly blatant absurdity.

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Still, if you’re in the (entirely advisable under most circumstances) habit of ignoring me, you can check it out for yourself as Alienator came out last week on DVD from Shout! Factory as part of their new “4 Action-Packed Movie Marathon” two-disc set where it shares billing with another early-90s DTV number from Ray, the Heather Thomas (yeah, I forgot about her, too) “starring” vehicle Cyclone, as well as the pretty-decent-all-things-considered Gary Busey revenge flick Eye Of The Tiger and fan favorite Cannon actioner Exterminator 2. The technical specs for Alienator are as follows : digitally remastered (and darn good) widescreen transfer, remastered mono sound, and no extras. Which is fine, really, especially since this package retails on Amazon for eight bucks.

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Look, we might as well be honest here —odds are that if you’re gonna get this thing it’s for Exterminator 2 (I know that’s why I picked it up) so anything else is literally (okay, metaphorically — told you we’d get back to that)  just gravy, but ya know, sometimes turkey (or beef, or chicken, or whatever) tastes better plain, and Alienator is a cinematic condiment you can definitely skip and still get more than your money’s worth out of the main entree on offer here.

Which is kind of a  shame, really, because it sure sounded good on the menu.