Horror Film Review: Wishmaster (dir by Robert Kurtzman)

Remember the Wishmaster films?

There were four of them and they all deal with this ancient Djinn (Andrew Divoff) who, during each film, would escape from his magical prison and then wander around granting people their wishes.  Of course, since the Djinn was evil, there was always a catch.  He would either interpret the wish very literally or he would manipulate people into asking for the wish in the wrong way.  As a result, people would always get their wish but they’d get in a way that would make them suffer.

For instance, a typical Wishmaster conversation would go something like this:

“I wish I was a better actor.”

“Am I to understand that you wish you were John Wilkes Booth?”

“Wait …. what?”

“As you wish.”

Sic semper tyrannis!”

The first Wishmaster was released in 1997 while the fourth (and, to date, last) installment was released in 2002.  They’ve never gotten as much attention as some of the other horror franchises from that period, largely because there was really only so much that you could do with a character like the Djinn.  Part of the problem was that almost every scene depended on someone not understanding the importance of being clear when making a wish.  There’s only so many times that you can watch the Djinn trick people into saying, “I wish I never get old,” before the whole novelty of it all wears off.

That said, the Wishmaster films did have one thing going for them and that was Andrew Divoff.  A veteran character actor (and one who you might recognize from Lost, where he played a member of the Others who was both Russian and who had only one eye), Divoff was always creepy as fug in the role of the Djinn.  Whenever someone made the mistake of making a wish, this little smile would appear on Divoff’s face and you knew that someone was about to learn an important lesson about being careful what you wish for.  Divoff was seriously frightening of the Djinn, so much so that you regretted that the films themselves could never quite keep up with his performance.

Last night, I watched the first Wishmaster film for the first time in six years and it was actually a little bit better than I remembered.  The plot itself is typical Wishmaster stuff.  The Djinn is trapped inside of a gem that eventually makes it way to the United States.  An idiot lab worker attempts to experiment on it, which leads to the gem exploding, the Djinn getting free, and an epidemic of mass wish granting.  Nobody seems to have learned the lesson that the first thing you wish for is more wishes.

Wishmaster is stupid but fun.  The first film was produced by Wes Craven and perhaps that explains why the film is full of cameos from everyone who was anyone in low-budget 90s horror.  As a result, you’ve got Kane Hodder saying that he would “love it if” the djinn “tries to go right through him,” and Robert Englund playing a businessman and Tony Todd showing up as a doorman.  It’s nice to see them all, though ultimately the main reason to watch the film is for Andrew Divoff’s wonderfully smirky turn as the Djinn.  It’s hard not to wish that he had another horror franchise to dominate.

Be care what you wish for!

(Sorry, had to do it….)


Quick Horror Review: John Carpenter’s The Fog

I have something of a tradition with John Carpenter’s The Fog. Every year, I try to watch the film on the date and time where the story starts – April 20th, at around 11:55pm. It’s not the scariest of stories, but it does have a spooky atmosphere that lends itself well to Halloween – or any late quiet night. I love this movie.

The Fog marked the first film that John Carpenter worked on after Halloween, collaborating with the late Debra Hill, who also produced the movie. She’d go on to also produce both Escape From New York and Escape from L.A for Carpenter. While it didn’t really have the impact of Halloween, it held up until Escape from New York came out the following year.

Here’s the story:

In the town of Antonio Bay, an old captain (John Houseman) explains to some children about the ill-fated Elizabeth Dane (what a beautiful name, I might add), a ship that belonged a rich of crew of lepers led by someone named Blake. The heads of the town conspired to steal the gold by setting up the ship to crash against the docks. It works out for the Conspirators, as they are “aided by a unearthy fog” that blinds the Leper ship’s navigators. and the gold they collect helps to form the great town the kids play in to this day.

What they don’t realize is that vengeance is coming in the form of that very same fog, as the ghost of the Lepers have come to claim the lives of the six conspirators…or their direct descendants.

As a kid, I had a problem with that. You mean because my great great grandparents messed up somewhere ages ago, I have to get killed for it? I remember thinking that it really wasn’t fair, but I’m kind of diverging from the topic here. The story gives you four points of view. You have Nick (Tom Atkins, sans his signature mustache) and a hitchhiker he picks up played by then scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. You have Curtis mother, Janet Leigh, who’s character is working on the anniversary party for the town and her assistant, Sandy, played by Nancy Loomis (who appeared in the first three Halloween films). The third comes from Adrienne Barbeau’s character, Stevie Wayne, who works for the local radio station. Her character acts as the warning voice for the town and she starts to notice that something’s going on when her son gives her a piece of Driftwood that later echoes Blake’s warning. The final viewpoint comes from Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), who discovers Blake’s diary and learns the truth about what happened 100 years ago. His character helps to piece the mystery together, somewhat.

Carpenter and Hill gathered many of their friends, who went on to work on other films for this. Tommy Lee Wallace went on to direct Halloween III: Season of the Witch (and coincidentally did the voice of the Silver Shamrock ad-man in the commercial) and Vampires: Los Muertos. Wallace’s name was given to Carpenter fan favorite Buck Flower. Nick Castle’s name was given to Tom Atkins character. Makeup Wizard Rob Bottin (who also played Blake in the film) went on to do some of the effects in The Thing.

The makeup effects in this film were okay. The lighting and fog did more to obscure than to actually help one see what was doing the attacking, but it really worked for some of the shadowing in the film. If the movie has any drawbacks, it’s that there’s a really low body count to the film. In essence, there are only 6 people the ghosts are after, so these are only the ones they actually get. It would have been interesting if there were a few random deaths, or more individuals in danger, but I supposed it worked out well for the time period.

The Fog is a nice film to catch late at night. You won’t find it at the upper rankings of top horror films, but it’s one to try, at least. Don’t even bother with the Remake for this one. It’s not even work talking about.

Lisa Marie Experiences a Drive-In Massacre (dir. by Stu Segall)

Last night, as part of my quest/mission/curse to watch all of the movies included in Mill Creek’s 50 Classic Chillers Box Set, I watched a film from 1974 called Drive-In Massacre.

So, what’s Drive-In Massacre about?  Well, there’s this drive-in and there’s someone wandering around with a sword which he uses to kill various filmgoers.  Now, you might think that the fact that people keep getting hacked to pieces at the drive-in would lead to the establishment either getting closed down or perhaps, at the very least, it would lead to an increased police presence.  Well, you would be wrong.  Even more people start hanging out at the drive-in and the police presence amounts to two overweight detectives who go undercover to catch the killer.  (By undercover, I mean that one of the detectives shows up in drag.) 

Since this is a pre-1980, giallo-influenced slasher film, the film is structured as a whodunit.  Instead of giving us the wisecracking killer that we usually associate with slasher films, this one presents us with a handful of weirdos and dares us to try to guess whose guilty.  Is it the bald guy who manages the drive-in and who is referred to as being “a perfect asshole?”  Or is it Orville The Pervert who spends all of his time trying to peep on young lovers and who happens to have some bloody clothes in the back of his car?  Then again, it could be Germy, the creepy janitor who is a natural suspect because 1) he’s a former sword swallower and 2) his name is Germy.  Then again, it could also be the sweaty guy who pops up out of nowhere during the film’s final 20 minutes and spends all of his time saying things like, “I’m going to cut the bad out of you.”

Of course, there’s always the possibility that the film will end with an out-of-nowhere “surprise” twist that will either piss you off or make you squeal with delight depending on how seriously you take these things.  Me, I squealed with delight.

I loved this movie and I make no apologies for it.  The plot makes absolutely no sense, the acting is really odd, and the whole film has this wonderful feel to it that leads you to suspect that someone just turned on a camera and yelled, “DO SOMETHING!”  The first kill scene is actually rather effective and there’s a few scenes of intentional humor that actually work almost well.  As well, the film did manage to capture the feel of a sleazy drive-in (perhaps because it was filmed at a sleazy drive-in).  I mean, I’ve never been to a drive-in and I probably never will since I don’t think they exist anymore but, after seeing this film, I feel like I’ve had the drive-in experience. 

However, my love of this film truly came down to two things:

1) I loved Germy!  Seriously, I’ve seen a lot of movies featuring mentally disturbed janitors and Germy belongs in the Mentally Disturbed Janitor Hall Of Fame.  Plus, his name was Germy.  That just makes me laugh so much.

2) The movie itself only lasts an hour and 13 minutes.  Now, on the one hand, that means that there’s not a lot of time for anything along the lines of coherence.  However, on the other hand, it also means that the movie never gets a chance to drag and right when you’re starting to get annoyed with it, it’s over!

As a sidenote, Arleigh might be interested to know that this film was apparently co-written by George “Buck” Flower.



Lisa Marie Considers The Alpha Incident (dir by Bill Rebane)

It seems that every film lover owns at least one of those box sets of public domain films that Oak Creek Entertainment puts out.  You know which ones I mean — the box sets usually have about 50 to 100 movies crammed onto 12 discs and always have titles like “Astounding Adventure Classics.”  Most of the time, you’ll recognize one or two of the movies included (usually Night of the Living Dead) and you’ll end up buying it because they only cost like 6 bucks and that’s pretty good for 50 movies, even if you already know most of those movies are going to suck.  I own several of these box sets, including 50 Chilling Classics. 

I’ve recently decided to write a review for every single film that I have in my collection and I figured, what better place to start than with the often-forgotten and ignored public domain films that can be found in 50 Chilling Classics?  So, let’s get things started by reviewing a little public domain film from Wisconsin called The Alpha Incident.

Made in 1977, The Alpha Incident tells us what happens when a train, carrying a deadly virus brought back from Mars, makes a stop over at a small country train station.  It seems that Hank (played by George “Buck” Flower, who giggles a lot) had taken it upon himself to inspect that deadly cargo and has accidentally released it into the atmosphere.  The train station, and the five people trapped inside, are quarantined by the U.S. government.  Trapped in the station are the increasingly crazed Hank, the cold Dr. Sorenson (Stafford Morgan), gruff bully Jack (John F. Goff), neurotic secretary Jenny (Carol Irene Newell), and the shy station agent, Charlie (Ralph Meeker, who was the best-known actor in the cast).  The five are told to wait while American scientists try to find a cure for the virus.  Under no circumstances can they 1) leave the station and 2) fall asleep because, the minute they do, the virus will cause their brain to literally explode out of the back of their head.  For the rest of the film (which, honestly, would probably have worked better as a play), the five fight among themselves, wonder if they’re infected, and above all else, struggle to stay awake.

The Alpha Incident was directed by Bill Rebane, an independent filmmaker who is based up in Wisconsin.  Apparently, Rebane’s unique cinematic vision has won him a cult following among fans of low-budget horror and sci-fi films.  One term that I’ve often seen used to describe him is “the Ed Wood of Wisconsin.”  On the basis of the Alpha Incident, I don’t know if that’s a fair comparison.  Yes, the film does drag at time and the editing pretty much defines the term “ragged” but the movie still held my interest and not in a solely “what the fuck am I watching?” sort of way.  Yes, the performances are uneven, ranging from histrionic (George “Buck” Flower and John F. Goff) to boring (Stafford Morgan) to adequate (Ralph Meeker) to surprisingly good (Carol Irene Newell) but the characters themselves aren’t the usual stereotypes and, while the dialogue is often a bit clunky, the film’s story is an interesting one and the ending is just so wonderfully cynical and downbeat.  With it’s portrayal of common people trying to survive the mistakes of a faceless government, The Alpha Incident is so wonderfully 70s that I it made me want to go to a club, tell my companions, “I’m going to powder my nose,” and then snort someone else’s cocaine. 

Like many of the best B-movies, The Alpha Incident was made with more ambition than skill but it’s still a film that, if you truly appreciate the low-budget exploitation movies of the 70s, is more than worth seeing.

The Daily Grindhouse: Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (dir. by Don Edmonds)

Our latest “Daily Grindhouse” is infamous for popularizing that subgenre of exploitation and grindhouse film involving Nazis and their atrocities during World War 2. The typical setting for these so-called “naziploitation” films always end up one of the Nazi stalags (POW camps) or even concentration camps (for the truly exploitative of the bunch). The film that truly started it all for this subgenre is none other than Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS.

Grindhouse has a certain amount of individuals who’re seen as icons in the industry. Ilsa would be the film which would make a certain individual an icon within grindhouse. That individual is the Las Vegas showgirl turned exploitation actress, Dyanne Thorne. It was her performance as the SS Commandant of the setting for the film which made Ilsa such a cult classic in the eyes of grindhouse aficionados. Her statuesque and buxom figure was such a presence in the film that it was difficult to take one’s eye off of her whenever she was in it.

The film set the benchmark on the naziploitation subgenre and also the rules on how to make one. Ilsa could be seen by younger fans of film this day and age as nothing but softcore pornography. They wouldn’t be too far off with that description. This film was all about sex and violence. Thorne’s character would be the instigator for both themes and central to every scene which had them. To say that rape and torture of female prisoners (and male prisoners who fail to satisfy Ilsa) became the  blueprint for naziploitation films would be an understatement.

Other films in this subgenre would take what Ilsa had created and up the ante. Adding in even more explicit violence and sex. They would begin to mash it up with other subgenres of grindhouse. This film is not for everyone and definitely not for children (and probably some adults as well), but for fans of grindhouse it’s mandatory screening.

There’s really no trailer about this flick which has been uploadedt. The grindhouse faux trailer created by Rob Zombie to be part of Grindhouse definitely was influenced by Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS.