TOMB OF NOSTALGIA-EASTER EDITION: NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972)

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NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (1972)

Night Of The Lepus tells the chuckle inducing story of hormone experiments intended to curb an out of control rabbit population in the Southwest that causes not only an increase in size but, heightened aggression and a taste for flesh. Way to go science! Only in the 70s (ok, maybe the 50s, too) could you have a horror movie about giant carnivorous rabbits. And what makes Lepus so much of a hoot is just how dead serious this flick is. From the direction by William F. Claxton to the performances by it’s veteran cast, including Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh and a mustache sporting DeForest Kelley, Lepus really tries to present itself as a serious horror flick and that makes it all the more fun. From the slow motion scenes of real rabbits running through miniature sets to the close-ups of obviously fake, blood-soaked prosthetic rabbit claws and teeth, Lepus goes the whole way in trying to convince us to be scared of these adorably vicious giant bunnies. Epic fail! There’s even a guy in a rabbit suit jumping on the helpless victims. Seriously, how can you not love that! Whether they’re growling like mountain lions or chewing up the locals, Lepus is a deliriously fun ‘so bad it’s good’ treat. And there’s even a few scenes of decent gore to properly represent the rabbit induced carnage. And if that’s not enough to convince you, hold on to your easter baskets for the military v.s. monster rabbit showdown at the climax. A sheer camp delight! Watched in the right mind set and with the right beverage, this is a great bit of schlocky 70s entertainment. Rated purely as delightfully entertaining cheese!

A solid 3 giant mutant carnivorous bunnies

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: LOVELY MOLLY (2012)

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Molly (Grethchen Lodge) is a pretty young woman with a troubled past. She lost her parents, she’s had drug problems, but she’s gotten married and seems happy now. But  she and her husband, Tim (Johnny Lewis) have moved into her parents’ house and strange occurrences begin to happen, especially when her truck driver husband is away and Molly begins to exhibit strange behavior and a return to bad habits. Is there some paranormal force victimizing her, or has moving into her parents home reopened the mental wounds of past abuses?

Writer/director Eduardo Sanchez (Blair Witch Project) delivers a very spooky and disturbing tale of an emotionally damaged woman who is now being haunted from within or without. He gives the film some creepy imagery and a nice atmosphere of dread and keeps much of what’s going on a mystery until it’s all slowly revealed. And when it is, there are some surprises and quite a few shocking moments. He gets really good performances out of his cast, especially Lodge who has some rather disturbing scenes to act out as the film progresses. Not all is perfect. As Molly falls back on old habits, so does Sanchez. He gives Molly the need to document her actions and the events that happen while she’s alone at times, so there is found footage peppered about through the film and it really doesn’t seem to serve the plot except to gives us Molly’s occasional point of view. There also are times that characters make dumb decisions such as her husband and sister (Alexandra Holden) not calling the police or some professional help when it is obvious Molly is exhibiting violent and potentially dangerous behavior.

But the spooky goods far outweigh the bad and Lovely Molly is a genuinely creepy and unsettling horror film from the co-creator of the classic Blair Witch Project.

3 and 1/2 deer (watch the movie to find out why.)

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REVIEW: SECTOR 7 (2011)

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SECTOR 7 (2011)

Sector 7 is a somewhat entertaining monster flick from Korea, but, unfortunately, it’s too derivative of other, better movies, right down to the Ripley-like heroine, and has too many nagging problems to be able to cut it some slack. Story of an offshore oil rig besieged by an unknown and very dangerous sea creature has already been done in a couple of direct to DVD and TV movies and those movies were just rip-offs of Alien. The flick even has the traditional conspiracy subplot where the creature’s appearance might not be by accident.

Sector 7 is directed well enough by Kim Ji-Hoon and the cast and characters are fine, thought some cast members do over act a bit. It’s creature FX are barely above SYFY Channel standards and the CGI heavy finale goes on far too long with our super beastie having more lives then Jason Voorhees. There are things that make no sense that occur just to set up certain set pieces, like an oil rig having a supply of guns, motorcycles and a self destruct system. The conspiracy subplot involves a facet of the creature’s anatomy that is just plain absurd and while it is plain the creature has a nest and it’s implied there are more than one…which would explain how it can be in so many different places so quickly…it never becomes a factor in the movie. There’s also a useless plot point where one of the human characters is set up to take the fall for the monster’s first victim and then that story thread is discarded in the very next scene, as the true killer reveals itself. Why bother at all?

The film does move well though, and there is an intensity to the action and after the creature is revealed, there is a lot of it. The creature design is actually decent, if not badly rendered, and the monster does convey some lethality despite the lame CGI. But coming from the Korean cinema that has been producing some really good and original films lately and brought us the inventive monster feature, The Host, this is a major disappointment.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 calamari

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SHOGUN ASSASSIN (1980)

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Shogun Assassin is a favorite 80s guilty pleasure that was actually edited together from the first two films of a classic Japanese movie series called Lone Wolf And Cub. The film was then dubbed in English and given a new synthesizer score and released by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. The flick tells of a master samurai (Tomisaburo Wakayama) who is betrayed by his crazed Shogun and marked for death. During an assassination attempt, his wife is killed and now he travels the Japanese countryside with his toddler son, Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa), working as a sword for hire and constantly battling the Shogun’s sons and scores of ninja sent to kill him.

Shogun Assassin is a deliriously fun and blood soaked roller coaster ride that is about 10% plot and 90% fight scenes as Lone Wolf continuously is set upon by the Shogun’s killers and their subsequent and gruesome dispatching by his sword. Especially amusing are a squad of sexy female ninja, Lone Wolf’s showdown with the Three Brothers Of Death and the fact that Daigoro’s baby carriage has more weapons then James Bond’s Astin Martin. The action is fast and furious and filled with spurting blood and flying limbs and is a real blast. It’s now considered one of the greatest exploitation films of all time and it is a title this wildly entertaining sword and samurai flick rightfully deserves. A real blast I was fortunate enough to see at the legendary Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. with a rambunctious audience back in 1980.

A solid 4 swords for giddy, gory exploitation entertainment.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE BOOGENS (1981)

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THE BOOGENS (1981)

The Boogens is a 1981 horror flick that has become a bit of a cult classic partially due to it’s unavailability for almost 2 decades and partially for it’s amusing title. It’s just fun to say “Boogens”. The film also has sentimental importance to me, as it was one of the horror flicks I saw with friends at the legendary Oritani grind house in Hackensack, N.J. A time when B movies were still released in a theater, where they belong, and a time I now cherish in this direct to DVD and VOD age. Now being given the chance to revisit this low budget chiller, it’s time to answer the question of whether it’s as fun as I remember, or has time and nostalgia created a far better memory then it was a movie. I’m happy to report, it still is a fun flick, although 80s nostalgia does play a part. In a way, Boogens is a quintessential horror for the late 70s, early 80s with it’s slow burn, creepy old man with ominous warnings, and nubile girls in skimpy bathrobes investigating noises in dark cellars. This is exactly the type of movie Ti West paid homage to in the recent House Of The Devil. A few months later Evil Dead would arrive and crank horror flicks up to 11 and Jason was just getting started on his body count.

This 1981 horror stars Rebecca Balding (Silent Scream) and takes place in rural Silver City, Colorado, a small mining town where the mines are being reopened for the first time since a supposed cave-in, 70 years previous. Unknown to two college grads (Fred McCarren and Jeff Harlan) working on the re-opening and their two nubile young ladies (Balding and the equally cute, Anne-Marie Martin), the mines were caved-in on purpose and unsealing the tunnels unleashes our title creatures and they are quite hungry.

Boogens is well directed by James L. Conway…from a script by David O’Malley and Jim Kouf…who also directed pseudo-documentaries like Hanger 18 and In Search Of Noah’s Ark and went on to direct a lot of genre TV, including episodes of all the post-original Star Trek series and the current, Supernatural. He directs with a leisurely pace, but builds some nice suspense and also knows to keep his monsters hidden until the very end. And when we do see them, they are good old fashioned prosthetics. There’s something charming about prosthetics that CGI rarely matches. He gets good performances out of his cast and the fact that they are all very likable helps add suspense when they are in danger. There is some nice gore, but it is used sparingly and the body count is low. This movie was made just as the slasher sub-genre started to gain momentum and before body count became crucial to the proceedings.

Sure, by today’s standards The Boogens is tame, slow and cheesy, but it is the type of horror that they made when I was in high school and I will always have a soft spot in my movie geek heart for them. The transfer on blu-ray is absolutely beautiful and it’s worth a look for horror fans, especially those who enjoy horror from this era. Welcome back, Boogens!

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: Director Conway and leading lady Rebecca Balding fell in love during the production and are still happily married to this day!

A nostalgic  3 and 1/2 Boogens

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REVIEW: ARGO (2012)

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Ben Affleck is 3 for 3 as a director with this simply great film set during the Iran hostage crisis of the late 70s/early 80s. Argo tells the story of 6 Americans who barely escaped the U.S. Embassy as it was being taken over by hostile Iranian citizens after the overthrow of the Shah. While the rest of the embassy staff become hostages, the 6 find refuge in the home of the Canadian Embassy’s director. Knowing that the Iranians will soon figure out they are missing and hunt them down, CIA extraction specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) hatches a wild scheme to sneak them out disguised as a film crew scouting locations for a make believe science fiction epic called “Argo”. Ben Affleck takes Chris Terrio’s script and crafts a suspenseful, thrilling and extremely entertaining true life historical drama that manages to be a lot of fun despite the serious nature of the story. Affleck deftly weaves in some welcome humor to give us a bit of relief from the almost non-stop tension, and in just the right amount to gives us a break and make us even more susceptible when he decides to turn the screws again. He gets great performances out of his top notch cast including, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and a wonderful Alan Arkin as the Hollywood producer who helps him fake the production of the sci-fi flick Argo. He and his production crew also do a great job of recreating the look and feel of that historic moment in time. This is a movie that lives up to every bit of the hype and deserves every award and nomination it received. And despite knowing how it all turns out, you still find yourself embroiled in some intense white knuckled suspense. Great flick!  ****

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BEREAVEMENT (2011)

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BEREAVEMENT (2010)

This is a pull no punches horror about a young boy, Martin Bristol (Spencer List) kidnaped by serial killer, Graham Sutter (Brett Rickaby) and forced to witness the atrocities he commits on innocent women. Worse yet, Sutter needs an heir apparent to his gruesome deeds and has chosen Martin to learn his trade. The film also follows a parallel story involving a teenage girl, Allison (Alexandra Daddario), who recently lost her parents and whose path is obviously destined to collide with the ordeal of young Martin…and to say anymore would spoil an intense chiller with a truly shocking and blood soaked final act.

Writer/director Stevan Mena showed a lot of potential with his first film  Malevolence and with his follow-up, Bereavement, he shows he is living up to it big time. While a prequel to his first film, Bereavement is crafted so you don’t need to have seen Malevolence, but if you have, there are a lot of little touches and nods you’ll recognize…especially in the post credits sequence. Mena’s involving such a young child in all the violence is daring and horrifying at the same time and we share in the horror as young Martin Bristol is made to participate in his disturbed mentor’s acts. It’s even more horrifying since he is basically a good kid forced into this and not some “bad seed” which we’ve seen before. Stevan Mena keeps a feeling of dread throughout, delivers some taunt suspense and doesn’t bludgeon us with shocking moments, so when they do come, they have the intended effect. The camera work evokes John Carpenter at times, as Mena knows how to frame a shot and achieve far more with it than just making it look good. As filmed by Marco Cappeta, the film looks beautiful at times, despite the grim subject matter. Also much like Carpenter, Mena also composed the atmospheric score and edited this highly effective chiller. The gore effects are live and well executed and the lack of CGI is quite refreshing.

The cast, including genre vet Michael Biehn, performs well with Daddario making a feisty and resourceful heroine and young Spencer List effectively handling the role of Martin. Rickaby is effectively creepy as Graham Sutter, yet gives him a subtle sadness that makes him slightly more tragic than the usual serial killer portrayal. John Richard Ingram returns as Officer Riley from Malevolence and veteran actor John Savage has a small role as Ted, the father of Allison’s romantic interest William (Nolan Gerard Funk).

A delightfully down to basics and highly recommended horror film. One of my favorites of 2011… Bereavement was made in 2010 and played at film festivals till it got a proper release in early 2011. Remember to watch through the credits, especially if you saw Malevolence.

A solid 3 and 1/2 busty imperiled heroines

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A SPECIAL PLACE: THE ORITANI THEATER IN HACKENSACK, N.J.

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The Oritani Theater: 300 Main St. Hackensack N.J Photo from the Mitchell Dvoskin collection

A SPECIAL PLACE: THE ORITANI THEATER IN HACKENSACK, N.J. by MonsterZero N.J.

Everyone has a special time and place in their lives that they will always remember. For me it’s the Oritani Theater in Hackensack N.J. during the late 70s and early 80s. A place which was an important part of my youth and played a large role in developing my tastes in movies and my love of movies in general. Since I will probably mention this special theater quite often on this site, I might as well tell you a little bit about it and why it is special to me…

Grind house is a term used to describe a movie theater that showed low budget exploitation films as opposed to more mainstream movies. The Oritani triplex in Hackensack N.J. could definitely be described as a grind house, presenting badly dubbed martial arts, horror, and raunchy low budget comedies. I was fortunate enough to have experienced seeing a lot of great exploitation films on it’s screens before the video age killed the grind house and these movies went direct to videotape and now DVD.

My first visit to the Oritani theater was in 1976. It was still a single auditorium theater at that point and my parents took me there to see the cheesy rubber monster-fest, “At The Earth’s Core” which was on a double feature with the sci-fi/horror “Bug”. It was an odd double feature and a herald of things to come. I would venture there a few more times to see delightfully cheesy fair like “The Incredible Melting Man”, but it wasn’t till a few years later when visiting the Oritani would become an almost weekly occurrence.

I started high school in 1979 as a new kid in Ridgefield Park, a small town where everyone grew up together. My parents had divorced and my mother remarried and we relocated there to live with my new stepfather. I was an outcast at first and it was the other outcasts that I bonded with as friends. My pals Roger, Ray and Dorian all held similar interests and movies was one of them. Ray especially was a big horror and gore movie fan and I wonder if he still is. We weren’t old enough to drive and Hackensack was in walking distance, so Friday and Saturday nights were spent walking along the railroad tracks that paralleled the Hackensack river into town and onto Main St, where the Oritani theater was located. The Oritani was now split into a triplex, so there was at least three movies to choose from each week, more with the occasional double feature. If the weather was bad, Ray’s grandfather drove us, so we were there almost every weekend, sometimes twice. There was always something playing there to catch our interest. Worse came to worse, there was always the Fox theater across the street, which showed it’s share of exploitation flicks, too.

Obviously what we saw there was a mixed bag. I remember seeing the classic “Shogun Assassin”, as well as, one of my all time favorites, “Escape from New York”. But for every future classic, there was a “Final Exam” or a “Revenge of the Shogun Women in 3D” which evoked more laughs and mockery then chills and thrills. I discovered the films of David Cronenberg watching “Scanners” there. My first exposure to Cronenberg’s work and he has become one of my favorite filmmakers. Got to see some early Charles Band productions there like “Laserblast” and “The Day Time Ended” before he embraced DTV and started making films specifically for the home video market. I also saw “Mad Max” there starring a then unknown Mel Gibson, which was on an odd double feature with “Humanoids from the Deep”, another great B movie from Roger Corman, whose movie productions I love. I saw Corman’s answer to “Star Wars” and “Alien” respectively, “Battle Beyond the Stars” and “Galaxy of Terror” at this special theater, too. Both had production design by a then unknown James Cameron who went on to direct “Terminator”, “Aliens” and “Titanic”. Future memories formed watching future stars. You’d be surprised how many acclaimed actors and filmmakers had their start in these movies…whether they acknowledge it or not.

The audience at the Oritani was as diverse as the selection of flicks and these movies brought everybody together to laugh and shout comments at the screen as one audience. Whether it was to challenge a master’s skill in “Kill and Kill Again” or question the threat factor of one of “The Boogens”, the audience became part of the film. Some of the comments heard were better than the film viewed and I will never forget them. When the film broke before an epic battle in “Shogun Assassin” and restarted after the fight ended… well, you had to be there. I’m glad I was. Even when I revisit that B-movie classic today, it doesn’t seem quite the same with that jarring bit of missing footage now intact.

Unfortunately, video tape came along and exploitation film studios realized it was cheaper to release things directly on tape than to spend money on prints and advertising. The grind house died and the Oritani died with it. There are now a couple of stores standing where the Oritani used to be and I can’t name one of them. Don’t care to. I wish I could name the last thing I saw there* but, in it’s final run, the Oritani tried to save itself by becoming more of a mainstream movie house, so we stopped going. By then we were old enough to drive and could see these mainstream movies on a newer, bigger screen with better sound. I remember one night coming out of the Fox theater, we might have gone there to see John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, and I gazed across the street to see the Oritani marquee and feeling sad that “E.T”. was playing there and not some cool exploitation flick or low budget horror. Maybe in my heart I knew at that moment that those days were now gone and to an extent, so was the Oritani I knew and loved. And sadly, it was. The Oritani closed in 1983, the year I graduated high school. Perhaps a bit symbolic of the end of my youth, or at the very least, the end of an era. I will never forget this special theater nor the impact it had on me as a movie lover. And I cherish the memories of all the great B-Movies I discovered there, seeing them on the big screen where they belong. The spirit of the Oritani Theater still lives within this movie geek, though and on many a quiet Saturday night I get a six pack of my favorite brew and pull some of the great B-movies first seen there from out of the collection and relive some of the memories of that very special place.

The Oritani Theater  1922-1983.

*UPDATE 2/8/2015: After a lot of deliberation and checking of release dates, I have come to believe that “Friday The 13th part 3 in 3D” may very well have been the last film I saw at the Oritani Theater. If correct, Friday 8/13/1982 is the last time I was at this great theater and special place…and the 3rd “Friday The 13th”, the final film. -MZNJ