Zombie Dead, The (1981)

The Zombie Dead (1981)

The earth shall tremble…. graves shall open…. they shall come among the living as messengers of death and there shall be the nights of terror…. “Prophecy of the Black Spider”

A professor conducting research into an ancient burial site unwittingly unseals an underground crypt and unleashes an army of flesh-eating monsters. They immediately head for his mansion nearby which is hosting a party. Following a terrifying encounter in the grounds of the mansion, the guests seal themselves inside as the undead gather outside.

 

The good old Italian zombie genre produces one of it’s more infamous offerings with The Zombie Dead, perhaps the sleaziest of the Italian zombie gore fests. Following the success of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, a whole slew of Italian zombie flicks were hastily made and no one did cheap exploitation rip-offs like the Italians. Pushing the boundaries of graphic horror further than their American counterparts would ever dream, the Italian zombie films mostly consisted of little plot, little in the way of characterisation, bad dubbing and generally poor production values. But they contained a tremendously mean spirit and sense of brutality that would see them turned into iconic and controversial films, most notably during the ‘Video Nasty’ furore in the UK during the 80s. It’s generally hard to tell each of the films apart as they all plagiarise each other but the occasional one did manage to stand out. Say hello to one of the most notorious of the lot: The Zombie Dead.

As with Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, Zombie Holocaust, et al, the film makes little attempt at creating a plausible story. The professor unlocks the crypt and unleashes zombies. End of. We don’t learn of how the professor raises the dead or why they have come back to life. They just appear and kill him in the opening scene. From there the script introduces us to the various human characters who will eventually turn into zombie chow by the end of the film. Why are all of these people gathering at the professor’s mansion too? All they do is have sex with each other – I actually think it was some sort of wife-swapping weekend. Whilst this does deliver the T&A pretty early on (and most of the women are really attractive too), it means that you’ll be waiting a while to see the living dead once they’ve offed the professor. The naughty antics and debauchery of the characters is most welcome though and adds a nice sleazy element to the film. The characters are all thinly sketched and apart from one or two of the more infamous characters (more on that later), I have no idea who was who. Names meant nothing to me here. You won’t care about any of the characters because not enough time is spent with them. Andrea Bianchi knows what his audience expects and soon delivers our wishes in buckets when the zombies make their presence known to the characters.

The zombies are suitably rotting and maggot-infested although the make-up department went a little overboard with the oatmeal faces. They’re some of the most realistic-looking zombies ever to grace the screen and look like they’ve been decomposing in the ground for a long, long time. Compared to the pale-faced zombies of George A. Romero, the Italians get higher marks for believability. These zombies are slow and shuffling but also reasonably intelligent, not afraid to pick up weapons to attack their victims or band together to smash down a door with a battering ram. In fact the zombies are cleverer than the cast as is proven when they have the bright idea of opening the doors to let the zombies in since they can be outrun. Look where it gets them!

When the deaths begin to roll, they’re pretty graphic. Fulci’s trademark close-up of someone’s eye being impaled on a sharp object is copied here to the same gruesome effects. Let’s just say that the zombies are well fed. Its rudimentary carnage though as the film simply drifts from one set piece to the next, with no story to hold it all together. But what set pieces they are! The two standouts are the decapitation of the maid which proves that zombies should work together more often and the most-talked about scene of the film during the finale.

This involves what The Zombie Dead is perhaps most infamous for one as one of it’s implied subplots is based around a mother and her incestuous, extremely freaky looking thirteen year old son. I mean this kid looks like a middle-aged man in a tiny body – he really does give you the shivers before he even opens his mouth. Peter Bark, the actor, actually a 25-year old adult, was cast so that the scene where he gropes his mum wasn’t as shocking (imagine having a child do that for real and you can see why they opted for the “tiny” man route). Still, the scene is disturbing enough at the suggestions being made and this bizarre man-come-boy actor certainly doesn’t do it any favours. But the real kicker is in the finale where the now zombie-boy seeks to get his mother’s affection for one last time. Obvious prosthetic chest aside, it’s the highlight of the film. This finale leads into an ending which is just as shocking and abrupt. Take a note Hollywood, not all films are meant to end in sugar-coated packages where everything is resolved.

 

The Zombie Dead is perhaps one of the greatest of the Italian zombie films and deservedly a cult horror flick. With no plot and bad dubbing dragging it down a few stars, the film more than makes up for it with its excellent make-up effects, controversial moments and a general sense of impending doom. Even if you don’t want to sit through the film, I suggest that you still go and find a picture of Michael, the ‘little’ kid, on Google. I swear he’ll give you nightmares like never before.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Gamera Vs Jiger (1970)

Gamera Vs Jiger (1970)

An ancient statue is uncovered in Japan and taken away from the mountain to be displayed in a World Expo. This causes Jiger, a giant monster, to awaken and go hunting for the statue. It’s only a matter of time before Jiger starts destroying Japan and it’s up to Gamera to stop him. During a battle between the monsters, Gamera is injected with Jiger’s larva and a human-manned miniature submarine must go into Gamera’s body and kill the infant monster before it kills him from the inside.

 

Gamera was always a poor man’s Godzilla until the 90s came along with a kick ass reboot. Back in his heyday, Gamera starred in some of the single most appalling monster movies ever made. The Gamera films were always more child-orientated, with most of the films starring a couple of smarmy Japanese kids who would know everything and help Gamera beat whatever the monster of the moment was. Less serious, less plot-driven and more in line with a bigger budgeted kids TV show, Gamera battled some of the most ridiculously-conceived monsters ever to grace cinema in some of the most confusing, most immature and most delirious plots created. This sixth entry into the Gamera series must be about as far away from his original conception that anyone could imagine.

Gamera Vs Jiger surely has been made by some Japanese guys who were experimenting with illegal drugs at the time. There’s no other reason why the film is so weird. From the traditional city-stomping kaiju eiga antics, to colourful Jiger’s design, right down to the Fantastic Voyage-like sub plot about the mission to go inside Gamera and commit an abortion, the film continually bombards the viewer with the unexpected. There’s even a stop to the World’s Fair/Expo from 1970 complete with its unique visions of the future. Two kids form the basis of the human plot and the presence of this couple of annoying brats in the lead roles is like a kick to the nuts. These children are super-gifted and super-mature for their age.  It’s ironic that in these Gamera films, it’s not the scientists who come up with the better ideas and theories behind the evil monsters but the children. Quite why these two kids are present at ever major world meeting isn’t really important and even more so the reasoning behind two kids being entrusted with the mission to go inside Gamera and kill Jiger’s spawn.

Gamera looks the same as he did in the previous films which is to say, not very believable. The monster suit never really convinced anyone that this was a dangerous monster from the get-go and the silly sequels have done nothing to dispel that myth. It’s got a limited range of movement thanks to the physical limitations of turtles which means Gamera tends to do the same things over and over again. This means that the fight scenes are very repetitive and whilst there are some decent battles here, it’s literally the same sequence of combat. Jiger looks a lot like Barugon from the previous films only with a few more horns stuck in his head and a different colour of body paint. It has the ability to fire arrows from its head and has small rockets behind its ears which it uses to travel through the air. And yes, all of this does look as silly as it sounds. Jiger is a terrible monster but for a terrible film, what were you expecting? However Jiger’s violent demise is somewhat disturbing for such an innocent children’s movie and Gamera takes a massive beating leading to the loss of a lot of green blood.

 

Gamera Vs Jiger is yet another terrible entry into the Gamera series. I’m a fan of kaiju films but I was even struggling to get through these horrendous Gamera outings. Rightfully most of them have been shot-to-pieces on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Unbelievable, The (2001)

The Unbelievable (1999)

A truth so evil…

A team of archaeologists travel deep into the woods to find an ancient Indian burial site. The head of the expedition has other plans for the site which involve removing anything of value and selling them so that he’s set up for life. But when they remove the artefacts, they unleash an evil monster which is invisible and proceeds to kill them off one at a time.

 

When the final cover of a film is the best thing about the entire production, you know that you’re scraping the barrel but that’s about all I’ve got positive to say about The Unbelievable (or Unseen Evil as it’s more commonly known everywhere else except the UK – why do they change so many titles of low budget films for UK release?). Even so, take a look at the cover and it’s not all that. Granted there’s a kick-ass looking alien partially revealed at the top but you won’t find anything that looks like it in here. The rest of the cover is pretty bland with the four main characters having their faces put on the bottom (like most ordinary people will have a clue who any of them is, let alone genre fans!). In fact the more I look at it, the worse the cover gets.

The Unbelievable is a very amateurish film which has designs well above its station but not a shred of budget to get anywhere near where it thinks it is in terms of quality. The first thing that you’ll notice is just how small scale and low key everything is. There are literally a handful of people running around the woods and clearly only a smattering of people behind the camera. You never get the sense that this is actually a feature film too – the production values are so poor that you’ll always know that you’re watching a film instead of being transported into a ‘real’ film world….you know, like a film is supposed to do.

The Unbelievable wants to be Predator so bad except there are no jacked-up muscle men with mini-guns, grenade launchers and machetes trying to take on the monster – there are a couple of wimpy college guys and a self-appointed bad ass black guy for the alien to rip through. There are plenty of stolen Predator-like ideas peppered around including the ‘alien vision’ shots all the way down to the ludicrous ending where the survivors construct booby traps and weapons using the trees to try and protect themselves. Again, there’s not a moment during the course of the film where you think anyone is actually doing anything than acting really badly in the woods with a few mates. As bad as some films can get, I at least want them to give off the illusion that what I’m watching is real and not just acted out for the cameras.

The script is full of clichéd lines and really stupid dialogue like “take it easy” and “let’s talk about this” – one guy even says “it’s OK I have the situation under control.” This is daft, unoriginal dialogue delivered in the most monotone and unimaginative fashion. Quite how B-movie king Tim Thomerson and Richard Hatch from Battlestar Galactica fame (the original series that is) got roped into this mess is beyond me.

As I’ve alluded to already, the alien from the front cover looks nothing like the alien in the film. In fact the alien in the film looks like nothing at all – it’s mostly a blur of poorly-rendered CGI. I’d have taken a guy wearing a cheap Halloween costume over the computer animation that we get passed off with here. There’s not a great deal of alien action which is either a blessing if you don’t think your head could cope with any more inane rubbish or a curse if the thinly-sketched but overly irritating characters have started to grind on your ears. This itself is a task and a half since there’s hardly anyone in the film (seven characters of note) so those that are present need to work extra hard in order to tick off the audience.

In a further insult to the intelligence of the viewer, the way the Indian burial site is presented should be enough to get you to switch off. We’re expected to believe that these artefacts, which have been here for years, are all nice and sparkly as if there’s a cleaning service doing the rounds – or as if these presents just been put there by Santa before the kids come down the stairs on Christmas Day.

 

The Unbelievable is dreadful – there’s nothing else really to say. Someone on IMDB said it was like The Blair Witch Project meets Predator – that’s about right. It’s got the ideas of Predator but the budget of The Blair Witch Project. And either way, you’re better off watching the end credits of either film to be entertained a heck of a lot more than you will be here. It’s just unbelievable that films this poor can get a straight-to-DVD release. If these people can do it, surely anyone can?

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Zombie Nosh (1988)

Zombie Nosh (1988)

He lived, he died, he’s back, and he’s hungry!

A group of college students on an overnight hayride are terrorised and attacked by a zombie, accidentally released from his tomb in the woods. The zombie is hungry and human flesh is first on the menu!

 

If this film tried to be Night of the Living Dead any harder, it would implode. It’s as if director/writer/editor/actor/best boy/whatever else he did, the legendary Bill Hinzman, is trying even harder to reclaim his past glories. For those of you who don’t know, Hinzman played the cemetery zombie in the original Night of the Living Dead and as a result, a place in horror history. He said that fans recognised him everywhere he went and so he decided that the zombie was worthy enough of its own film. Hang on a minute, he was only a bit-part in that film and the plot didn’t revolve around him. He disappears after the first ten minutes. So is he just an ego-maniac or does he really believe that he was the only thing people remember from Night of the Living Dead?

When he tried to make a zombie film without the input of George A. Romero, it ended up this mess called Zombie Nosh. Did he really think that the world needed another zombie flick, especially in the late 80s when guys in masks killing teenagers were all the rage? Hinzman stars and plays, surprise, surprise, a zombie. Actually he is the best part of the film and he does look and acts like a nasty zombie – you wouldn’t want to cross him in the woods. The ironic thing is that he needed loads of make-up in 1968 to play the zombie but now that he’s a lot older, he hardly needs any make-up at all and still looks as scary.

Hinzman aside, the film is a messy, incoherent succession of loosely-related zombie attacks. The film kills off most of the main characters half-way through and then has to introduce a new batch to fill the gaps. How many films do that? It kills the flow of the film because you’re basically starting from act one again by introducing new main characters to the audience to get to know from scratch. The zombies chase two teens throughout the film who lead them to a variety of random people who don’t believe them and who are promptly devoured for their ignorance. Characters appear in the film for about two minutes tops. They say some lines, discover the zombies and then become zombies themselves after being attacked. Heck, one girl is in the film for about five minutes maximum and she spends four minutes forty seconds completely naked.

This loose stringing together of attacks is just an excuse to show loads of T&A (the zombies have the knack of ripping open blouses ala Zombie Lake to expose their victims breasts before the kill) and loads of cheap and nasty gore as Hinzman and co. smash through their victims (quite literally at times) and rip them open with their teeth. It would have worked better had the film had the zombie as the main star of the film. Now there’s a thought – a day in the life of a zombie. Hinzman and his undead gang are the only constants through the film so why wouldn’t it have worked? It certainly would have given the film a bit of a different slant. And as we’ve seen with recent films like Colin, this unique perspective would have been a welcome change.

What Hinzman clearly doesn’t grasp is that the graphic kills themselves mean nothing. George A. Romero’s films were gory and violent when they needed to be but they were built around great characters and a story that actually meant something. So when the story became punctuated by violence, it was all the more shocking. Having zombies just ripping people apart left, right and centre may show off a load of fancy make-up effects but it gets old quickly when there isn’t a solid story to build around them. They lose their meaning and unfortunately all of the attacks in this one mean nothing.

The film starts to play out a bit more like Night of the Living Dead towards the end when groups of rednecks are hired to go and hunt the zombies, thus leading towards a terrible ending where the two surviving teens are mistakenly shot. Sounds familiar? Overall, there are few redeeming qualities about this film. The picture isn’t very crisp, the sound is ropey and the whole thing just looks faded like it has been left out in the sun for to long. On the DVD, Hinzman bitterly thinks that all low budget movies are the same quality and, without naming names, clearly points his finger at George A. Romero. He’s tried to prove his point with Zombie Nosh but only succeeded in making it invalid. Talent shines out which is why Romero hit the big time. The reality is that Hinzman got lucky with his bit-part role and has been living in Romero’s shadow ever since.

 

Zombie Nosh has some moments of sleaze worth noting but Hinzman’s brainchild film is simply a very bad rip-off of a far superior film. Stick with the original zombie shocker Night of the Living Dead if you want sophisticated splatter.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Snakeman (2005)

Snake Man (2005)

Pure venom.

An expedition to the Amazon discovers the remains of a man they later determine to be over 300 years old. A second expedition is sent down there to find out why he managed to live so long and to locate a remote tribe who may be his modern day ancestors in that hope that they may also possess this seemingly eternal youth. However the expedition is beset by problems and the helicopter crashes during a thunderstorm. Stranded in the jungle with little hope for escape, the expedition then comes across a giant multi-headed snake that the tribe worship as a God and protector of their secret. When the expedition begins to get closer to the secret, the snake god Naga begins to kill them off.

 

Don’t have any sympathy for me, please. I just can’t keep myself from watching such abominations as this. It’s like an addiction. Some guys get addicted to cocaine. Some are attracted by the lure of cheap hookers. For me, it’s an unhealthy obsession with watching as many monster flicks as possible within my lifespan. So is it any wonder I start to rant and rave once I’ve watched another turkey. It’s not like I’m surprised to find out that the film sucks. Like driving past a car crash, you can’t help but take a look and see what has happened. Well put a giant snake on the front of a DVD cover and that’s my car crash right there – I can’t help but look and either rent or buy.

A giant multi-headed snake would have been a kick ass monster had it been done properly. I keep saying multi-headed snake because depending on the scene, the snake has an indifferent number of heads and grows more throughout the course of the film. At one point it has three heads and then in the finale it has about eight or nine! It’s also THE SINGLE WORST SPECIAL EFFECT EVER. I mean I’ve seen some clunkers in my time but this CGI monster is the worst thing to crawl out of a computer since that annoying fat plumber Mario! Words can’t describe how utterly poop this monster is. Worst is to come during the attack scenes where the snake heads have to pick people up and start tearing them apart in mid-air. Again words can’t describe how bad these scenes are. You know, I’m just going to recommend this film to everyone just so that you can understand ‘words will fail you’ upon viewing this monstrosity. I’d rather we all be struck in silence than just me having to rant on here about how bad it is.

The snake has an ability to change shape and size at any given time, usually depending on the scene. Need it to tower about the tree line to show how huge it is? Right we’ll make it super-huge for this scene. Need the snake to hide in a small river? Cue the reduction on the computer. Or how about chasing some people in underground caves? You’ve got it, let’s make it lean and mean. Computers have a lot to answer for but surely anyone in their right mind would be able to pick these silly inconsistencies out during post-production? The snake is also rewarded with its own POV shots ala Predator with the camera simply having a lime green filter stuck over the top to make it look like the snake is zooming in on its kill.

The film blows when the snake is on the screen so spare a thought for the scenes in which the snake isn’t around! They’re unbelievably boring and dull. I guess they need a story to pad out around snake attacks so the whole tribal thing is mainly nonsense. The tribal leader speaks perfect English even though his tribe has never been in contact with humans. At least they can further the story by having each character communicate with each other with relative ease. The tribe mainly consists of white guys in fake tan or at least the guys with speaking parts. Everyone else looks like they live in the jungle.

Stephen Baldwin yawns his way through the film. If he’s the best ‘action man’ that they can get for these terrible films, then they’re really scraping the barrel. He was never a great actor to begin with an was always overshadowed by his brother Alec. But between this and Shark in Venice, he’s slowly turning into my nemesis! If I see his name on a future sci-fi horror, then I’ll be sure to skip it.

 

Snakeman is terrible. I’m actually glad that the CGI was rubbish because a decent multi-headed giant snake would deserve better than a low grade straight-to-TV movie. Alas that is not the case so the snake, Baldwin and the rest of the cast and crew deserve as low as mark as I can give.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Oasis of the Zombies (1981)

Oasis of the Zombies (1981)

A group of students searching for treasure buried by the German army in the African desert during WWII comes up against an army of Nazi zombies guarding the fortune.

 

Not content with letting fellow exploitation director Jean Rollin butcher the Nazi zombie sub-genre with the abomination that was Zombie Lake, Jesus Franco (who wrote Zombie Lake) took his turn in the director’s seat with Oasis of the Zombies. It’s hard to say which film is worse as not only are both films absolutely terrible zombie films, they may even border on being some of the worst films ever made. Seriously, how hard is it for people to make a decent Nazi zombie film? Unlike other zombie films where loving friends and family are turned into flesh-ripping ghouls, Nazi zombies were evil and sadistic before they were dead. There’s something unnerving about the thought of the most evil people to have ever lived to be immortalized in zombie form, forever to walk the Earth looking for flesh. We thought we were rid of them but they’re back and unstoppable! Maybe even the likes of Jesus Franco and Jean Rollin have been too afraid to tap into this unholy combination for fear of the backlash that they may receive. Whatever is the case, Oasis of the Zombies is hardly going to offend anyone except for lovers of trashy films like myself.

Even worse is that Franco doesn’t even live up to his usual exploitative ways here. There’s little in the way of gratuitous nudity, a lack of any sort of sleaze and perversion of any kind and a total lack of pushing any sort of boundaries which at least his Euro-horrors do (and have been banned for). It’s almost as if Franco is clueless when it comes to proper horror films. Without the writhing orgies of women undressing before him, he’s pretty much a lame duck. Oasis of the Zombies has nothing good going for it except for the fact that the zombies like to pull people into the sand every now and then ala Tremors. But even when people are being pulled under, you can see the man-made hole they are falling into with sand-coloured plastic bin-liners lining the pit. It’s a really bad effect especially when the camera gets so close and can see the bin-liner being ruffled. Incompetence at it’s best. But it’s incompetent across the board.

The film lacks any sort of budget as is evident with the cheapness of everything and total lack of production values. The ‘actors’ look like they were simply some of the crew who chipped in with lines. The sound quality is really bad. Not only are there countless scenes with no sound at all (literally people just walking in silence) but there’s also a terrible piano track that plays up every now and then which is reminiscent of some sleazy porn film.

The zombies do look a lot better than those of Zombie Lake but they’re only on screen for a total of about ten minutes towards the end of the film and they only attack two people. They have suitably rotting faces complete with charred Nazi uniforms but we don’t get to see anything in the way of zombies devouring humans. All they simply do is swarm around their victims and wrestle them to the ground like you see in many other zombie films. But the money shots of throats being bitten out and flesh being torn away are sorely missing. The blurb on the box conjures up images of a feast of flesh but we got scraps – but even these scraps seem like a God’s send when you’ve sat through the rest of the film.

This is simply taken up with people talking monotonously to each other and people walking across sand…..lots of sand. Even at a slim running time of eighty-two minutes, this seems like shameless padding. There is a long flashback scene which takes up most of the film and seemingly uses WWII stock footage of Germans fighting, driving tanks and being blown up. But I want to see zombies, not Saving Private Ryan. At least the desert locations provide a sense of isolation for the film and it makes a change from being stuck in woods or desolated cities and being chased by zombies.

 

You’ll find yourself fingering the fast forward button on your remote a lot if you decide to tackle the abomination that is Oasis of the Zombies, one the worst zombie films ever. I dare anyone to watch Zombie Lake and this in a back-to-back sitting without falling asleep or wishing they were elsewhere.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ghoul, The (1975)

The Ghoul (1975)

A former missionary to India keeps his crazed, cannibalistic son locked away in the attic of his country house in order to keep him from killing to eat. When a group of people in a cross-country race stop off at the house, it is only a matter of time before the son escapes to feed.

 

British horror in the 70s was at its lowest point. Hammer and Amicus had been churning out the same horrors for years with dwindling results and a new breed of horror was emerging from America with the likes of Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Audiences didn’t want to keep watching Dracula, Frankenstein or other monsters stalking victims through Gothic settings. Some people foolishly stuck to the formula that had brought about the greatest success in the hope that people would eventually come full circle again but all it did was expose how poor and one-dimensional the films had become.

Tyburn Films was a new studio established by Kevin Francis, son of horror director Freddie Francis, that attempted to replicate the Hammer formula at a time when everyone else was trying not to replicate it. What we got was a handful of competently-made but ultimately weak and feeble horror outings that may have scared people back in the early 60s but looked woefully short of imagination and scares in the mid-70s. The Ghoul is one such outing.

The Ghoul might as well have begun with characters saying “been there, done that and got the t-shirt” because it’s so routine, unimaginative and uneventful. The story itself is very thin and it plods along way too slowly to do anything effective. There’s lots of padding early on with the antics of the racers taking up the bulk of the early running time. Even when they do get to the country house, they spend too much time doing very little of note. Freddie Francis’ direction is competent but so devoid of energy and life. He lets the film play out like an elongated sketch that should have been short and snappy but was dragged out to full feature-length levels.

Whilst the film is well shot, with plenty of fog-drenched moors and remote locations, it just doesn’t do anything with it. There’s no atmosphere, no sense of dread or foreboding or worthwhile build-up to the eventual reveal of the cannibal. Typically of old school horror films, the monster isn’t revealed until the very end of the film and its no surprise to find out that it’s a big let down. The ‘ghoul’ of the title is simply a man with a bit of green paint on his face. It’s hardly going to make you wet your pants, especially as he looks to be wearing a huge nappy and waddles across the floor like he has just done something naughty in it.

It’s a shame because it’s got good pedigree with the cast and crew: director Freddie Francis is a British horror legend, helming some of Amicus’ most popular anthology films as well as a few Hammer films; writer Anthony Hinds produced some of Hammer’s best early outings; both Peter Cushing (no introduction needed!) and Veronica Carlson starred in their fair share of Hammer horrors; John Hurt would shoot to fame when an alien burst out of his chest a few years later in Alien; and Ian McCullough starred in his fair share of late 70s/early 80s Italian exploitation horrors. Cushing does what he does best and that is improve the watchability of any rubbish film simply by his performance. This was three years on from the death of his wife, from which he never really recovered, and apparently he broke down a few times during filming. It’s not one of his best performances, if you can call it that, as he seems to be portraying himself – a heartbroken man full of grief and mourning. He chose the right character to play but probably at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons. John Hurt pops up as the crazy gardener.

 

The Ghoul isn’t going to win any horror awards with its pedestrian, lifeless formula being about ten years out of date. It’s harmless enough but just a chore to sit through the same old, same old time and time again.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Blood Beast Terror, The (1968)

The Blood Beast Terror (1968)

Detective Quennell investigates a series of murders in which the victims are found drained of blood with huge claws marks over their bodies. His investigation takes him to good friend and entomologist Karl Mallinger. Here he finds out that Mallinger has been conducting experiments that have caused his daughter to morph into a giant Death’s Head moth and she has been killing the men who are attracted to her.

 

Peter Cushing once remarked that The Blood Beast Terror was the worst film he ever took part in and he’s probably not too far from the truth. The Anglo-horror era in Britain in the 50s and 60s saw plenty of international smash hits churned out from the likes of Hammer. But there were also a few lesser known studios which wanted a piece of the pie and tried to muscle in on the market to little avail. This one is from a studio called Tigon who made the excellent The Witchfinder General but then struggled to keep the hits coming. It’s easy to see why they’re forgotten about when people continually talk about Hammer and Amicus.

The Blood Beast Terror is a complete mess. Even the worst of Hammer films usually had some form of coherent plot which made sense no matter how stupid some of them became. Here, there is nothing done to explain anything that happens. No doubt you’re wondering what the hell the plot is all about and it’s never explained throughout the course of the film. We don’t know how Mallinger managed to create a moth that big, let alone one that can change appearance between human and moth in the blink of an eye. Nor does it explain why the moth becomes a vampire, desperately needing blood to survive as opposed to nectar or whatever moths eat to stay alive. I guess any reasons would have been silly but at least we’d have a reason! It’s better than clutching at straws.

The film itself is terribly flat. Not a great deal happens. There’s a pointless subplot with Mallinger’s servant who continually harasses Mallinger’s eagle pet with a big stick before it pecks him to death and that plot thread ends. There’s a few deaths scattered around with a splash of blood on some of the bodies but nothing to get worked up over. The music adds nothing to the film whatsoever, with lots of misplaced and badly-timed cues of music which detract from some of the film’s most serious moments.

At least the acting is pretty reasonable with Peter Cushing being flawless as always (despite the absurdity of the material on hand) and Robert Flemyng being a bit of a turncoat as Mallinger. It’s the sort of role that Cushing can do in his sleep but one which he approaches with his traditional professionalism and ability to turn even the worst dialogue into intelligent science and fact. Wanda Ventham stars as the ill-fated ‘moth woman’ and it’s a thankless task. The moth costume looks ridiculous – fancy dress hire quality with its black bodysuit, big red eyes and some tacked-on wings.

The finale where Cushing builds a huge fire to attract the moth to it is so badly timed and rushed that it’s over before it begins. There’s one shot of something flying towards the fire but the lens seems to have been out of focus so it’s hard to explain what it is. Then the film ends. I had to read up on it in order to understand just what happened because it was all so quick and sudden. If there is one positive, it’s the great in-joke as some students put on a play of Frankenstein in Mallinger’s house. Cushing’s character peers through the window and smiles at the play, a self-referential wink to one of his greatest performances in The Curse of Frankenstein.

 

Cushing was right. The Blood Beast Terror was the worst film he ever starred in, through no fault of his own – but almost everyone else’s. It’s awful and not the way I want to remember British horror.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Xtinction (2010)

Xtinction (2010) (aka Alligator X)

They said it was extinct. They were wrong.

When her father goes missing, divorcee Laura LeCrois returns home after a twenty year absence. She takes over the family business of providing boat tours of the Louisiana swamp in order to keep prospective realtors from snapping her father’s land. But she finds out that the swamp is now home to a terrifying prehistoric dinosaur which has been cloned and released into the swamp by an unscrupulous scientist who is trying to get it to adapt to both fresh water and salt water.

 

Though it premiered straight on their network, Xtinction is a Sci-Fi Channel Original in all but the fact that it wasn’t made by them. With a plot lifted out of the basement book of monster movies, a budget which matches the pittance that Sci-Fi usually gave their films (about $2.5 million I read) and about as much originality as a piece of blank paper, Xtinction promises nothing and delivers the same. You know I wish Sci-Fi had made this made mess because at least then it would have some sort of excuse in that it’s just another one off the production line. The fact that someone else made this just shows you how miniscule the effort needed to make this type of film really is. Give me $2.5 million and I’ll do a better job! Perhaps the standards set by the Sci-Fi Channel are now so low that anyone with a camera and a CGI monster can make something which fits right at home with their output over the past few years.

The trouble with conveyor-belt films like this is that no one cares. From the main stars to the director to the guy standing by with the bottles of the water – it’s just a pay cheque to them. They know that in another few months another such film will come along. Everything about Xtinction just seems lazy, half-assed and, ultimately, pointless. Also known as the slightly-better Alligator X, the film runs like clockwork…..but it’s a clock which needs winding up. One of the first things you’ll notice whilst watching is how slowly everything drags. Characters don’t seem to be in much of a hurry. The film just shuffles along aimlessly.

You’ll spend more time predicting what is going to happen with a whole barrage of creature feature clichés. Opening attack sequence – check. Stock characters with history with each other – check. Local authority figure – check. A couple of dim-witted backwoods hunters – check. Slimy, discredited scientist – check. A handful of pointless secondary characters ready to be monster chow – check. Said monster, feebly rendered in CGI – check. Slew of unexciting, overly predictable and ultimately shallow attack scenes – check. I could keep rolling with this all day long. Xtinction shows no ambition, no attempt to do anything different and adheres to the play-by-play book almost word for word. It’s the sort of film you can put on in the background whilst you do something else and rejoin it at a later point without missing a beat. Even the look of the film is very dreary and soulless- surely the cinematographer could have put some life into the picture. Whilst it does give the swamp more of a dangerous and intimidating atmosphere, the same colours and tones get tiresome quickly. You wish the sun would just come out and brighten everything up.

The monster is typical of modern day CGI creature features. I’m sure it sounded interesting on paper but such is the nature of the film, you could easily exchange it for a similar aquatic menace without making any major alterations to the narrative. The monster plays second fiddle to the trio of human villains for a great deal of the running time like the majority of these low budget films. I came to see a prehistoric dinosaur killing people in an American swamp. I came to see what damage a prehistoric dinosaur could day in a modern day environment. I didn’t come to see some twisted backwoods goons menace the main characters instead. It’s a cop out – understandable from a budget perspective – but I wish they’d write more of this human drama into any plot summaries.

I’m sure that the back of the DVD or the ad in the TV magazine failed to mention that the rednecks seem to do more damage than the monster. They get more screen time anyway. It’s maybe for the best as I lost track of the same shot of the monster being re-used time and time again. The CGI is rubbish and the dinosaur has some stupid grin on it’s face, especially during the finale as it’s about to be blown up. It’s also got an uncanny ability to snatch people off boats without so much as damaging the craft in the slightest. Human-monster interaction is not the film’s strongest point. Cast wise, the film serves it’s purpose though you could have Al Pacino and Meryl Streep in the lead roles and the result would still be the same. Mark Sheppard has played villains plenty of times before so it’s not a big stretch to get him to play another. The same goes for Lochlyn Munro as the local sheriff – he’s played this role a few times as well. The only cast member with any ounce of energy is Elena Lyons but the role hardly requires the performance of a lifetime.

 

Sometimes I get sick of flogging a dead horse with these creature features reviews and I tend to just moan on about how unoriginal and derivative they are. Well as long as people are making trash like Xtinction, I’ll continue to make my voice heard. If they can keep producing conveyor belt creature features, I can keep on doing conveyor belt reviews. And rest assured, my reviews don’t cost $2.5 million a pop to do!

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Howling VII: Mystery Woman (1995)

Howling VII: Mystery Woman (1995)

Somewhere Out There a New Terror is Breeding

A number of vicious murders take place in a small Californian town not long after a mysterious stranger has arrived. The local detective talks with the local priest who reveals that the killer is in fact a werewolf. Is the stranger in town all he is cracked up to be or is someone else out there using him as a scapegoat?

 

Who cares? This pathetic series has provided so little in the way of entertainment or decent filmmaking that I’ve gone beyond caring for plots. I’m only watching them because I’m a completist and need to watch all of the films in a series just so I can say I’ve seen them all. As inept as some of the previous Howling were, this one is right up there (or should that be down there) with the worst – scratch that, it is the worst and by a long, long, long way. I don’t know where to start.

As with most of the films in this series, the fact it has Howling in the title is little indication that it’s a direct sequel, more so a standalone werewolf flick with that title added on. Having said that, director (and lead actor) Clive Turner has seen fit to carve up the previous films and rewrite history. He does manage to link this one with the others but in rather bizarre and pointless ways, including referring to a circus which was in town a while ago (from Howling VI: The Freaks) and even using a scene with a character from Howling IV: The Original Nightmare having a phone conversation with one of this film’s main characters. I don’t know why I’m being too harsh on it to be honest, it’s actually quite ingenious how all of the little bits have been connected together to try and connect all of the films in one. It just ends up confusing the hell out of the plot as characters are used and events happen that only happen because footage is being reused. Turner has tried to wrap too much up from the previous films when he should have kept it as a minimal as possible.

It really makes no difference though because the film blows and when its trump card is lifting scenes from slightly-better-but-still-shit films, you’re in trouble. Turner’s most blatant rewrite of history is when he has the scary-looking priest constantly babble on about a werewolf sighting in a castle in Hungary. Footage from Howling V: The Rebirth is shown which, ironically enough, starred Clive Turner as a different character. But not anymore, now his character is the same one, travelling from place to place fighting werewolves or turning into one (see the film wants to make you think he is the werewolf but this recap scene just kills that notion).

Right from the opening moments of a bunch of cops standing around a body, each of them trying to outdo the previous one in terms of exclamations (“Jesus Christ” is followed by “Holy Shit” and then “Mother of God”), you know this film is going to test your patience. Big montages of cars and bikes moving around the town are shown for the titles. I also hope you like country music and line dancing because there’s way too much of it in here. I had to check the DVD cover to make sure I’d picked up a horror film and not one of those ‘Learn To Line Dance’ DVDs. It’s a gruelling combination of bad music and even more horrible dancing. Time seems to stop as characters have conversations with each, with day and night happening in other scenes (the priest and detective seem to talk to each for the entire duration of the film whilst everyone else gets on with their lives). The conversations suck too because not only is this film completely jokey and throwaway, there’s also no actors! All of the people use their real names and seem to play the roles they actually work in real life in the town. It tells because they can’t emote to save their lives. Everything is drawn out in a monotonous, reading-the-autocue style of acting.

In case you’ve forgotten this is actually a werewolf. In the midst of this juxtaposition of country music, line dancing, endless clips of bikes, confusing story and locals playing themselves, there is actually a werewolf story. There are a few kills and the werewolf gets a Predator-esque POV. But you never see it or even glimpse it until the final two minutes when there is a terribly executed transformation (watch as the curtains around the person pixilate as well thanks to the crappy computer effects) and a woman bursts through a door wearing a Halloween costume.

 

At least Turner finally finished off the Howling series (at least for a long while, until an attempt recent reboot) with this mercy killing of a movie, which injected a lethal dose of poison into the flagging franchise. Pray for small mercies whilst you can!

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆