The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Alien Dead (dir by Fred Olen Ray)


This 1978 film takes place in Florida.

No, not in Miami.  Not Jacksonville.  Not Ft. Lauderdale.  Certainly not Orlando.  No, this film takes place off the back roads of Florida, where people are honest country folk and some folks live in a houseboat and you should always be careful when walking around the bayous because there might be some alligators lurkin’ about.  Of course, in this part of Florida, they call them gators.  Anyone who says alligator obviously thinks they’re too good for downhome country living.

Anyway, it turns out that there’s more to worry about in Florida then just alligators.  There’s also the chance that your houseboat might get struck by a meteor.  And then, everyone on the houseboat might be transformed into a zombie and, after they’ve eaten all the alligators, they might start eating all the humans.

When a sudden zombie outbreak occurs, you have to hope that you’ll get a good law enforcement response.  Unfortunately, law enforcement in these parts means an elderly sheriff and a bearded deputy who is always trying to catch a peek of the local women skinny dipping.  The sheriff, by the way, is played by Buster Crabbe.  In the 20s and 30s, Crabbe was an champion swimmer who won Olympic medals and went on to play Tarzan, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers.  At the height of his popularity, he was known as “the King of the Serials.”  In The Alien Dead, the 70-something Crabbe plays Sheriff Kowalski and, if nothing else, it seems like he was enjoying himself.  Really, that’s important thing when it comes to a movie like this.

The Alien Dead is an extremely-cheap looking film and, with the exception of Crabbe, none of the actors appear to have done much before or after appearing in The Alien Dead.  There are some scenes that are so dark that it’s next to impossible to actually tell what’s going on.  Despite being a rather short film, the pace is still slow and there are certain scenes that seem to drag on forever.  There’s a lot of perfectly valid criticisms that one can make about The Alien Dead.

But you know what?

I like the film.

Seriously, in a strange way, the film actually does work.  Yes, the acting is pretty bad and the dialogue is often rather clunky and the plot doesn’t make sense and blah blah blah.  Those are all true facts.  But, there are isolated moments where The Alien Dead achieves a dream-like intensity.  For instance, there’s a lengthy scene where the zombies attack and all of the action is shown in slow motion.  I realize that may have been done to pad the film’s running time but strangely enough, it works.  Even more oddly, the film’s cheap gore effects add to the movie’s already dream-like feel. Finally, if nothing else, the film captures the humid atmosphere of the Florida bayou.  Watching the film, you can feel the sweat and hear the buzzing of mosquitos.  At its best, The Alien Dead works as a piece of outsider art.

Finally, The Alien Dead is one of those films that had been released and re-released a few times on video.  As you can see below, one of those releases was apparently inspired by the success of Evil Dead.

Cinemax Friday: Operation Cobra (1997, directed by Fred Olen Ray)


Interpol agent Kyle Connors (kickboxing legend Don “The Dragon” Wilson) is sent into a tailspin when his partner, Trevor (Rick Hill), is apparently killed during a failed operation.  Connors’s boss (played by the film’s director, Fred Olen Ray) orders Connors to go on leave so Connors promptly heads over to India.  Connors is planning on capturing Daveed (Evan Lurie), the drug dealer who Kyle blames for murdering Trevor.

While searching for Daveed with the help of an honest (and obviously doomed) cop named Ravi (R. Madhavan), Connors has several battles with a group of Indian ninjas who are intent on capturing a mysterious woman named Shallimar (Deepti Bhatnagar).  Connors also meets yet another mysterious woman, Callista (Tane McClure), who claims to be an intelligence agent and who tells him that Daveed’s boss is actually the enigmatic Victor Grayson (Michael Cavanaugh).  While Connors is tracking down Grayson, he finds out about yet another shadowy crime boss known as The Hydra and a computer disk that can apparently be used to hack into computer in the known world.

Can you guess who The Hydra actually is?

As any aficionado of late night Cinemax can tell you, Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Fred Olen Ray are a match made in heaven.  If you were growing up in the 90s, you knew Don “The Dragon” Wilson was cool because everyone who talked about him used both his given name and his nickname.  He was never just “Don Wilson” or “The Dragon.”  Instead, he was Don “The Dragon” Wilson.  Though Wilson never had much screen presence, he was a good on-screen fighter and the fact that he wasn’t a typically muscle-bound action hero made him more interesting than an ‘actor” like Steven Seagal.  Fred Olen Ray, meanwhile, was smart enough to get out of the way and let Wilson kickbox his way through the movie.  Though the story is nearly impossible to follow, a few good fight scenes more than make up for it.  Ray understands that is what most of his audience (maybe all of his audience) is going to be watching for.

Though the plot of Operation Cobra never makes any sense, most people will know what they’re going to get when they see who directed it and who is starring in it.  Even though the film wasn’t shot in the most photogenic areas of India (because that would have cost too much money), it still makes good use of its location footage and it’s hard not to be entertained by a film features Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Tane McClure, Rick Hill, and Evan Laurie.  That’s B-action movie nirvana.  I also liked that it was never entirely clear what the computer disk actually did but that it was extremely important than it not fall in the wrong hands.  It was the ultimate MacGuffin and because the film was made in 1997, it wasn’t necessary to go into details.  All that had to be said was that it had something to do with computers and that automatically made it a big deal.  That’s just the way things were in the 90s.

Cinemax Friday: Maximum Revenge (1997, directed by Fred Olen Ray)


When a new maximum security prison is finally ready to be opened and filled with dangerous criminals, Warden Glover (Arthur Roberts) gives a tour to reporter Tracy Quinn (Landon Hall).  Unfortunately, the tour is interrupted when a group of terrorists led by Murdock (John Lazar, who is best-known for playing the homicidal record producers in Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls) infiltrate the prison and take over.  Their plan is to set off a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles and trick the United States into a retaliatory strike against the Middle East.

Fortunately, the Warden is able to free the five prisoners who had already been transferred to the prison before it was taken over by terrorists.  It’s now up to the prisoners to defeat the terrorists and defuse the bomb.  They’ve only got an hour to prevent a war!  Fortunately, the prisoners are being led by former CIA agent, Mace Richter (Paul Michael Robinson).  Mace is only in prison because he was framed after a hostage rescue went wrong.  (It turned out that the hostage was in on the plot so Mace killed him.)  Amazingly, the terrorists from that operation are the same terrorists who have now taken over the prison.  What a coincidence!

Maximum Revenge is a Fred Olen Ray movie so you know what you’re getting.  The film rips off Die Hard by having Mace and the crew take out the terrorists one-by-one.  Despite the fact that they’ve only got an hour to stop a nuclear bomb from going off, Mace and Tracy still drop everything so that they can have sex in one of the prison offices.  It seems like that could have waited until after World War III had been prevented but then again, it’s a Fred Olen Ray film.  No matter what else can be said about Fred Olen Ray, he knows what his target audience is watching for.

Paul Michael Robinson is not an extremely compelling action star and the fight scenes are pretty rudimentary.  The prison is obviously an office building and the frequent inserts of the bomb very slowly counting down from 60:00 are good for a laugh or two.  (Most bomb timers count down in seconds but I guess this one was meant to count down in minutes.  At one point, though, the timer reads 16:86.)  Even though the prison doesn’t appear to be that big and the terrorists aren’t that impressive, the timer is still somehow allowed to get all the way down to 00:01 before anyone does anything about it.  That tells you all you need to know.  The best thing about the movie are the end credits, which are filled with joke names.  My favorite was the electrician named Sparks McGee.

Cinemax Friday: Fugitive Rage (1996, directed by Fred Olen Ray)


When gangster Tommy Stompanato (Jay Richardson) is acquitted of murdering her sister, ex-cop Tara McCormick (Wendy Schumacher) gets justice her own way.  She shoots him.  Six times.  In the middle of a crowded courtroom.  Somehow, Tommy survives taking six bullets at point blank range while Tara is arrested and sent to prison.

In prison, Tara stands up to the usual collection of cruel inmates and predatory guards.  She bonds with her cellmate, Josie (Shauna O’Brien).  Josie may be a murderer but the only man she killed was her abusive husband so, like Tara, she had a good reason for committing her crime.  Tara and Josie become so close that when an federal agent named O’Keefe (Tim Abell) offers to spring Tara from jail in return for her help in taking down Tommy, Tara demands that Josie receive a pardon as well.

After O’Keefe agrees to her demands, Tara leaves the prison with him.  While they get busy at a safehouse, Tommy and his right-hand man, Ryker (Ross Hagen), arrange for Josie to be kidnapped from the prison.  With Josie being held as a hostage, it’s time for a final confrontation between Tara and Tommy.  There’s a “surprise” twist at the end so don’t you dare to tell anyone about the final ten minutes of Fugitive Rage.

Fugitive Rage may be a typical hyrbid of the action and women-in-prison genres but it’s also a Fred Olen Ray film, which means that it’s got even more nudity than expected and that it’s more self-aware of the conventions of the genre than some other films about women behind bars.  There’s a lot that you can say about Fred Olen Ray’s style of filmmaking but no one will ever accuse him of taking himself too seriously and Fugitive Rage at least has a sense of humor about itself.  It’s hard to watch scenes like the one where Tara guns down a crooked lawyer just because he’s a lawyer without thinking that Fugitive Rage is deliberately poking fun at itself.

Fugitive Rage ends with the promise that Tara and Josie are going to become the new “Thelma and Louise” but, as far as I know, Fugitive Rage never got a sequel.  Instead, it just found a home on late night Cinemax.

Spring Breakdown: Super Shark (dir by Fred Olen Ray)


So, here’s the thing: when I was making out my list of films to review for Spring Breakdown, I was under the impression that the 2011 film, Super Shark, was a Spring Break film.  I was convinced that it was a film about a giant shark that ate a bunch of people over the course of Spring Break.

Fortunately, right before posting this review, I decided to rewatch Super Shark.  Normally, I probably wouldn’t have because I’m currently on vacation but it’s also currently raining and it’s also about 7 degrees outside.  (That’s 7 degrees Celsius but it’s still pretty cold.)  It’s like God was reading through my drafts folder last night and said, “Uh-oh.  Lisa needs to rewatch the movie before she posts the review.”

Anyway, upon rewatching Super Shark, I discovered that 1) the film is still awesome as Hell and 2) it’s not actually a Spring Break film.  Instead, it’s a summer film.  There’s even a scene where two lifeguards talk about what a great time they’re going to have working on the beach during the summer.  So, technically, I probably shouldn’t be reviewing this film as part of a Spring Break series but …. well, I’m going to do it anyways.  I mean, it may be a summer film but it plays out like a Spring Break film.  Plus, it’s got a giant shark.

Not surprisingly, for a film called Super Shark, the giant shark is the main attraction.  The CGI’s a bit dodgy and the shark does look a bit cartoonish but that actually adds to the film’s charm.  Whereas Steven Spielberg dealt with the reality of a fake-looking shark by keeping the shark off-screen as much as possible, directed Fred Olen Ray takes the opposite approach and seriously, more power to him.  Ray puts the shark in as many scenes as possible, as if he’s saying, “Yes, this is a low-budget B-movie and why should we pretend that it’s anything other than that?”  There’s an honesty to this approach that’s impossible not to respect.

The shark is prehistoric in origin.  It was safely separated from society until the big bad oil company did some bad corporate stuff and, as a result, the shark is now free to ruin everyone’s summer.  You know that whole thing about how sharks have to stay in the water or they’ll die?  That’s not a problem for Super Shark.  Super Shark will jump on the beach and eat you, he doesn’t care.  In fact, Super Shark is such a rebel that he’ll even take on a tank and win!  WE LOVE YOU, SUPER SHARK!

As always, there’s a group of humans around who don’t love Super Shark as much as the viewers.  There’s the evil corporate guy played by John Schneider.  He’s into money and drilling.  And then there’s the scientist played by Sarah Lieving.  She hates corporations and she doesn’t like sharks.  There’s a DJ played by Jimmie “JJ” Walker.  And then there’s the lifeguards and the beachgoers and the people who just want to participate in a wholesome bikini contest.  Sorry, everyone, Super Shark has other plans.

Anyway, I have a weakness for films about giant sharks attacking oil wells and eating people on the beach.  It’s a silly film but it’s obviously been designed to be silly.  This isn’t Jaws nor is this a serious film about the issues surrounding underwater drilling.   This is a B-movie about a giant shark and if you can’t enjoy something like this, I worry about you.  This is a film that you watch with your friends and you have a lot of fun talking back to the screen.  Don’t take it seriously and just enjoy the giant shark action.  Who could ask for a better summer?  Or a better Spring Break for that matter?

 

What Lisa Watched Last Night #179: Fiance Killer (dir by Fred Olen Ray)


Last night, I turned over to the Lifetime Movie Network and watched the latest Lifetime movie, Fiance Killer!

Why Was I Watching It?

It was on Lifetime!  By now, y’all should know that I’ll watch anything that’s on Lifetime!

What Was It About?

So, Cameron (Felisha Cooper) is about to be very, very rich.  As soon as she turns 25, she’ll be coming into a huge inheritance!  On top of that, Cameron also has a new boyfriend.  His name is Brent (Adam Huss) and he runs a non-profit!  Or, at least, that’s what he says.  Cameron’s mother (Kari Wuhrer) doesn’t trust him.  In fact, she does a background check on him and comes away convinced that Brent is only interesting in Cameron’s money.  Of course, Cameron doesn’t believe that.  In fact, Cameron is so offended by her mother’s paranoia that she elopes with Brent!

Except, of course, mom is right.  Brent is after Cameron’s money.  Of course, Brent doesn’t really have it in him to commit murder.  However, his girlfriend, Lexi (Jean Louise O’Sullivan), definitely does…

What Worked?

Lexi is one of my favorite characters of all time!  Seriously, she must have undergone ninja training at some point because she could seriously just pop up anywhere.  Someone gets in a car and there’s Lexi in the back seat!  Someone goes down to the kitchen and there’s Lexi hiding behind the refrigerator.  My favorite thing about Lexi was that, for all of the intricate plotting that went into her scheme, she didn’t really seem to care whether it actually worked or not.  Lexi was an agent of pure chaos, less a schemer and more a revolutionary.  Jean Louise O’Sullivan had a lot of fun with the role.

What Did Not Work?

Obviously, with any Lifetime film, you’re going to have to suspend your disbelief to a certain extent but seriously, Cameron was occasionally too naive to be believed.  Maybe if she had been 18, I could have bought that she wouldn’t be able to see through Brent and his schemes.  But, by the time you turn 25, you really should know better.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Obviously, it would have been nice if I could have related to Cameron, who was a very nice person and always tried to do the best for everyone.  But, honestly, I could never do the whole eloping thing.  When I do get married, it’s going to be a huge wedding and I’m going to expect a lot of expensive gifts.  As well, I couldn’t ever marry someone who worked for a “non-profit” because bragging about working for a company that doesn’t make a profit just seems strange to me.

So, that pretty much left with me with little choice but to relate to Lexi.  Unfortunately, Lexi killed people and I’m not really into that either.  However, I do enjoy making a scene so I guess Lexi and I had that in common.

Lessons Learned

I should sign up for ninja training as soon as possible.  Admittedly, I might not be a very good ninja and I’m not really sure if there’s much ninja work available where I live but I’d still love to learn how to just pop up anywhere whenever I wanted to.  That seems like that could be a valuable skill to have.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Stage Fright (dir by Fred Olen Ray)


(Hi there!  So, as you may know because I’ve been talking about it on this site all year, I have got way too much stuff on my DVR.  Seriously, I currently have 188 things recorded!  I’ve decided that, on January 15th, I am going to erase everything on the DVR, regardless of whether I’ve watched it or not.  So, that means that I’ve now have only have a month to clean out the DVR!  Will I make it?  Keep checking this site to find out!  I recorded Stage Fright off of the Lifetime Movie Network on January 29th, 2017!)

(aka Stage Fright)

Right above this sentence, you’ll see the original “poster art” for the film that was eventually broadcast on the Lifetime Movie Network as Stage Fright.  Even though the title changed (and personally, I think Stage Fright does carry a bit more oomph than Her Final Bow), I love this poster.  It’s just so melodramatic and I like how the stalker’s blue eye is staring straight at the viewer.  Even though the scene itself never actually occurs in the film, the poster still tells you everything that you need to know about this movie.  If I saw a paperback novel with this poster as the cover, I would definitely buy it and probably read it in one sitting.

Stage Fright tells the story of Sarah Conrade (Jordan Ladd).  At one time, Sarah was one of the most popular and famous opera singers in the world.  But then she was attacked by an obsessed fan.  Though he was subsequently gunned down by the police, he left Sarah with scars that are both physical and mental.  After she had a nervous breakdown, Sarah retired from performing and devoted her time to raising her daughter, Haley (Savannah Osborn).  However, one day, Sarah gets a call from a producer, letting her know that another singer is planning to perform Sarah’s signature songs and claim them as her own.  Though Sarah may be frightened of stepping back out on the stage, she’s a performer and she has her pride.  Sarah agrees to make a comeback and perform for one night only.

A lot of people are happy to hear this but it’s debatable whether any of them are as happy as Kevin (Peter Stickles).  Kevin works in a music store and he is one of Sarah’s biggest fans.  When she happens to step into the store, he not only tells her that he listens to her voice regularly but he also contrives to take a quick look in her purse.  Of course, Kevin also has a shrine to her in his house.  That’s … well, that’s a little bit creepy…

Audiences have waited for years for Sarah to make a comeback and now that she’s making it, the people around her are mysteriously dying.  The police even suspect that Sarah might have something to do with it.  Of course, we suspect the truth…

State Fright was directed by Fred Olen Ray, who is a veteran of these type of thrillers and who specializes in giving the audience what it wants.  In this case, the audience wants melodrama and Stage Fright certainly delivers that.  (Ray also delivers some effectively creepy shots of characters running around in the dank, lower levels of the opera house.)  Personally, I would have liked it if there had been a little more mystery about the identity of Sarah’s stalker but Jordan Ladd gave a good performance as Sarah and the mother-daughter relationship between Sarah and Haley felt real.  This is an entertaining little Lifetime movie that delivers exactly what it promises.

A Movie A Day #286: The Tomb (1986, directed by Fred Olen Ray)


 Sybil Danning is top-billed in The Tomb but she only appears at the very start of the film.  She lands an airplane on a landing strip in the middle of the Egyptian desert and then gets into a gunfight with two archeologists who have robbed a tomb and are now trying to sell off the artifacts.  When one of the archeologists aims his handgun at the plane and pulls the trigger, the plane explodes.  Though Sybil survives the gun fight, that’s it for her in this movie.  Since whatever modern-day audience The Tomb may have is largely going to be made up of nostalgic Sybil Danning fanboys, most people will probably stop watching once it becomes obvious that she is never coming back.

The rest of the movie is about the archeologists selling off the artifacts to greedy collectors like Cameron Mitchell (who spend the entire movie sitting in his office).  This ticks off the ancient Egyptian princess, Nefratis (Michelle Bauer), and she sets off to kill all of the collectors, one-by-one.

Like The Awakening and Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb, The Tomb claims to be based on Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars.   Actually, The Tomb is just an early Fred Olen Ray film, complete with Ray regulars like John Carradine, who gets even less screen time that Danning and Mitchell.  Like most early Ray films, it suffers due to a low budget but Ray’s enthusiastic, never-say-die spirit keeps things moving right along.  With most of the top-billed actors only appearing in a scene or two, the movie belongs to Bauer and she does the most that she can with her role, tearing apart hearts and swearing vengeance with real gusto.

One final note: during the opening credits, The Pharohs, a band that performed while wearing headresses and wrapped in banadages, performs Tutti Frutti.  That almost makes up for Sybil Danning only appearing in 3 minutes of the movie.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Terror Night, aka Bloody Movie (dir by Nick Marino)


 

Okay, so this is kind of a weird one.

The movie known as Bloody Movie was originally filmed in 1987, under the title Terror Night.  However, it was never released.  There are plenty of rumors about why it wasn’t released.  Some people say that it was because the film was produced with Mafia money.  Some people say it was because it used a lot of footage that was lifted from other movies and the producers apparently didn’t bother to clear the rights.  Of course, it’s also totally possible that the film wasn’t released because it wasn’t very good.  I mean, that does happen.

Regardless of why, the film apparently sat on the shelf for 20 years.  It was finally released by Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia and retitled Bloody Movie.  That said, the DVD that I own (and watched for this review) was released by Legacy Entertainment and still had the Terror Night title.  The transfer on the Legacy DVD was notably bad.  From what I’ve been told, the Retromedia release looks a lot better.

Now, there’s a lot bad things that can be said about Terror Night.  It’s low-budget, which is one of those things that can be overcome by a clever director but, in this case, it just results in Terror Night looking cheap.  It’s poorly written, full of one-dimensional characters who were shallow even by the standards of a late 80s slasher.  This is also one of those movies where formerly respectable actors pop up for five minutes cameos.  Whenever one of those actors shows up, all the action stops so that they can earn their paycheck.  Aldo Ray is homeless and doomed.  Cameron Mitchell is a cynical cop and doomed.  Alan Hale, Jr. is an affable security guard and apparently not doomed.  There’s no real reason for any of them to be there but there they are!  There’s also a biker couple who show up for no particular reason, along with the typical collection of teenage victims.

But yet, there are moments when Terror Night goes from being bland to being almost transcendently odd..  There are moments of comedy mixed in with some surprisingly mean-spirited death scenes.  Necks are snapped.  Heads are chopped off.  Bodies are split in half.  It all gets rather messy and the presence of all those old time actors makes the sudden gore scenes feel all the more strange.

However, the main thing that distinguishes Terror Night from the other slashers of the era is the identity of the killer.  (And, before anyone yells at me, this is not a spoiler.  There is never any mystery about who the killer is.)  Lance Hayward is not a zombie like Jason Voorhees or a silent symbol of evil like Michael Myers.  He’s not seeking vengeance for some crime in the past.  Instead, he’s a former silent screen star.  (It seems like Hayward would have been close to 90 years old at the time of Terror Night.  He’s still surprisingly spry.)  Hayward commits his murders while wearing costumes from his old movies.  Adding to the strangeness of the whole scenario is that actual silent footage is spliced into the murder scenes.  Most of the footage comes from movies like The Thief of Baghdad, The Black Pirate, and the Gaucho.  You have to wonder if Douglas Fairbanks cheated the director’s father or something.

(Since Hayward spends most of the movie in costume, I’m assuming that he was mostly played by stuntmen.  When Hayward actually shows his face, he’s played by one-time Oscar nominee, John Ireland.  At the height of his career, Ireland co-starred in films like All The King’s Men.)

As to why a silent scream star would be murdering teenagers … well, your guess is as good as mine.  It’s a strange film, a mix of gore and nostalgia.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it but I still always appreciate anything this strange.

A Movie A Day #266: Possessed by the Night (1994, directed by Fred Olen Ray)


Howard Hansen (Ted Prior) is a best-selling horror writer who is suffering from writer’s block.  With his agent, Murray (Frank Sivero), pressuring him to get something written, Howard decides to seek inspiration in Chinatown.  When he steps into a curio shop and sees a grotesque, one-eyed blob floating in a jar of formaldehyde, Howard buys it.  He hopes that the blob will give him an idea for a great book but instead, it just causes him to have nightmares and violent sex with his wife, Peggy (Sandahl Bergman).

Meanwhile, Murray is in debt with loan shark Scott Lindsey (Henry Silva) and Scott’s number one debt collector, Gus (Chad McQueen).  Murray needs money and he needs it quickly.  Murray sends his “secretary,” Carol (Shannon Tweed), to live with the Hansens and steal an unpublished romance novel that Howard wrote when he was just starting out as a writer.  However, the one-eyed blob possesses Carol and she is soon climbing onto both Howard’s workout equipment and Howard!  Soon everyone is under the influence of the one-eyed blob, Carol is forcing Howard and Peggy to make love while she holds the gun on them, and both Gus and Murray are sneaking around the house, trying to find the manuscript.

A movie that was once very popular on late night Cinemax, Possessed By The Night is a sometimes awkward but frequently entertaining horror/thriller hybrid from B-auteur Fred Olen Ray.  Along with giving Frank Sivero a rare leading role (Sivero is best known for playing Frankie in Goodfellas and providing the inspiration for the Simpsons character of the same name), Possessed By The Night proves that no movie can be that bad when featuring both Sandahl Bergman and Shannon Tweed.  When you watch a Fred Olen Ray/Shannon Tweed collaboration from 1994, you know what you’re getting and Possessed By The Night delivers.