Umberto Lenzi’s 1981 cannibal film (also known as Make Them Die Slowly) has garnered quite a notorious reputation as it was once declared the most violent film ever made and banned in a number of countries. Far more infamous for it’s on-camera real-life animal cruelty and death, then for it’s scenes of violence against the human characters and Gianetto de Rossi’s well orchestrated gore FX. But, notoriety aside, is it a good horror movie? Not really.
The film tells the story of 3 college students (Lorraine De Salle, Zora Kerowa and Bryan Redford) who are on an expedition in the amazon and run across two drug dealers (John Morghen and Walter Lloyd). It’s revealed that the drug dealers tortured and murdered a native tribesman and a young tribeswoman to get their hands on some emeralds and now the natives are out to exact revenge for the cruelty shown their people… and revenge is a dish best served raw. Will any of them survive?
Cult flick is very slow moving and while the disturbing amount of animal violence is spread throughout, the human violence is mostly in the last act as the natives exact sadistic revenge and in a flashback around the film’s center of the drug dealers’ heinous acts of cruelty. The rest of the film is a lot of walking through the jungle or standing in huts dispensing silly dialog while there are scenes inter-spliced taking place in NYC, as the police are searching for one of the drug dealers. Director and writer Lenzi gives the film a pedestrian pace but, doesn’t add much suspense or thrills when something does happen. It’s up to the gore FX and disturbing real animal violence to give the film whatever impact and shock value it does have. And while it is sickeningly effective at times, it does not a complete film experience make.
Despite the notorious violence, and there is some sick stuff here, the film is rather dull and we are forced to sit through a lot of bad dialog before anything happens. When it does happen it is pretty sick but, other then that, the film has no atmosphere or suspense to offer it’s thin story. Another film whose reputation is far greater then the film it graces… though I can see why it received such a harsh reception in it’s time. I prefer some of the Italian zombie films of this era. A lot more atmosphere and entertainment mixed in with the gore.
I’ll be honest, I am not the biggest fan of these two giant critter/nature run amok flicks from legendary American International Pictures, but there is enough 70s nostalgia and plenty of bad dialog, cheesy SPFX and over the top acting to make an enjoyable evening of ‘so bad it’s good’ cinema. They are not among personal favorites, though they do have their fans, and they do work well together being similarly themed and both based on H.G. Wells stories and directed by schlock legend Bert I. Gordon. Sure they lack the charm of his earlier films, but watched together with some of your favorite beverages, they still can provide some laughs and a few chills. They are considered cult classics to some and are among the last few movies of this type made before AIP tried to go mainstream, failed and ultimately was sold in 1979 and saw it’s final releases in 1980.
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FOOD OF THE GODS (1976)
Food Of The Gods is loosely based on a story by H.G. Wells and tells the tale of a mysterious substance that bubbles up out of the ground on a remote British Columbian island and when eaten by the offspring of living creatures, causes them to grow to enormous size and with an increased aggressiveness. Local woman Mrs. Skinner (Ida Lupino) sees it as a gift from God and has the brilliant idea to mix it in with her chicken feed and not only does she get vicious, giant chickens, but inadvertently creates a pack of wolf-sized rats. A number of people staying on the island, including pro football player Morgan (70s TV and movie icon Marjoe Gortner), greedy dog food company owner Jack Bensington (Ralph Meeker), his pretty assistant Lorna (Pamela Franklin) and young married couple Rita and Tom (Halloween‘s Belinda Balaski and Tom Stovall) become stranded on the island and forced to fight for their lives against giant wasps, worms, chickens and the hungry horde of rats. Will they survive nature’s vengeance against mankind’s tampering?…will Morgan get to kiss Lorna between vermin invasions?…will pregnant Rita give birth during a crucial giant rat attack?…the answers to all these questions are a play button push away!
Adaptation is written and directed by Bert I. Gordon who made an illustrious career out of cheesy B-movies like this, including a previous version of the story, the 1965 Village Of The Giants, which focuses on giant teenagers. Gordon gives us some really bad dialog to go along with some really stupid decisions that characters make to move the plot along or put themselves in danger. And despite there being a lot of action, he directs this horror with a very pedestrian pace and gives it a very somber and serious tone, when we could have had a little more fun with a cast of hammy actors battling rubber prop critters. The SPFX are very cheesy with either real animals photographed against models or superimposed badly into live action footage, with the before mentioned plastic props for close-ups. There are a few effective moments…the worms, ewww!…and there is a surprising amount of blood for a PG rated movie, but that was not uncommon in the 70s. It was only till films like Dawn Of The Dead and Friday The 13th came along and pushed the limits that the ratings board got very sensitive. And all these cheese-tastic elements would be a lot more enjoyable if the flick didn’t lack the fun and charm of some of Gordon’s earlier giant animal/bug/human pictures. His 50s and 60s movies had a sense of entertainment, where here, he seems to really be trying to make a serious Sci-Fi/Horror out of this, despite the goofy script. There is some fun to be had with all the unintentional cheese, but we only wish the film didn’t take itself so seriously and took the wildlife out of control premise and really ran with it like the 1978 Piranha.
The cast take their roles very seriously for such a silly flick, some to the point of camp. Gortner especially is a natural ham and really chews the scenery as the pro football player turned giant critter killer. Few actors could battle a giant rubber chicken with such seriousness and intensity and he is fun to watch. Also amusing is his deadpan narration that bookends the film. Lupino is also over the top with her melodramatic eye rolling and over-acting as she recites some truly ridiculous dialogue with a straight face. Meeker is a stereotypical greedy corporate douche while Franklin gives us the perky yet rebellious assistant. Why she even works for this jerk is the big question. The rest go along with the nature run amok premise just fine and do a really good job emoting against plastic creatures and reacting to things that were added later in post production. I give each credit for keeping a straight face with some of Gordon’s dialog and the situations they are put in.
Overall, Food Of The Gods is an amusing watch, but sometimes is either too bad or too serious to really have a good time with it. It also has a slow pace and really doesn’t pick up till the last act. The FX are delightfully cheesy and some of the acting and dialog is bad enough to elicit some chuckles, but I just feel the really somber tone defeats the cheesiness of the story and low budget production. Gordon made a career out of movies like this and I give him credit for not making a joke out of his subject, but when you are dealing with giant rats and chickens, you’d think he’d had a little more fun with it. On a more personal note, while I can’t find any documentation to verify it, it looks like some real animals were killed in some scenes and that doesn’t sit well with me either. A decent B-movie,but one that could have been more fun if Gordon just went with it instead of trying to pass off a cheese burger as prime steak.
2 and 1/2 giant rats!
EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977)
Food Of The Gods was a success for AIP and so, Gordon was back the following year with another giant creature feature from yet another H.G. Wells story, this time Empire Of The Ants. This one works slightly better with it’s story of radioactive waste dumped in the ocean and making it’s way to the shores of a small island where it is consumed (why?) by the local ant population. Enter Marilyn Fraser (Joan Collins), a greedy real estate developer who takes a boatload of potential scam victims to the island to show then where their future homes aren’t really going to be built. Obviously they get stranded on the island with the large and highly intelligent ants, who not only have an appetite, but use pheromones as a form of mind control to make humans into slaves. Now it’s up to boat captain Dan Stokley (Robert Lansing) to try to get this beleaguered group to safety, battling both the ants and their human drones.
Again flick is directed…but this time co-written with Jack Turley…by Bert I. Gordon and once again with a somber and serious tone despite the silliness of giant, mind controlling ants. But this film seems to work a bit better then Food Of The Gods as giant ants are a bit more effective then giant chickens and the cast is a bit more subdued, especially hero Lansing, so we don’t get the glaring contrast of serious tone and over the top acting…though there is still some of that. Once again Gordon gives us cheesy moments of real ants photographed and superimposed to look giant and plastic heads and limbs for close-ups though, ironically, the ants make a shrieking noise like a school girl who has just found an ant crawling on her arm. We also, get characters making some really stupid decisions like an elderly couple who, while fleeing the ants, see a door-less shack and proclaim “We’ll be safe in there!”…and there is some really bad dialog recited with straight faces by the cast. Again, like the previous Wells adaptation, this one just should have had more fun and more energy for a B monster movie. Sure there are some sequences which work and give chills, but Gordon’s earlier films were a lot livelier, where these two Wells-based flicks are taken far too seriously considering the subject matter and the SPFX, which were cheesy even in the late 70s. No one is saying to make a joke out of it, but recognize that it is a Saturday Night Sci-Fi flick and have a good time with it, like Gordon did with his films of the previous decades. After doing more seriously toned movies like Picture Mommy Dead and Necromancy, Gordon seems to have lost his sense of fun. Empire and Food lack the charm that made Gordon’s earlier films a delight.
The cast are a bit more dialed down then Food Of The Gods’ Lupino and Gortner, especially with leads Collins and Lansing. Joan Collins plays the manipulating, bossy bitch she made a career out of and keeps a very straight face despite acting with plastic ants. Lansing plays the soft spoken hero very well and it was refreshing to have an older man as the hero instead of a young jock or soldier. The supporting cast features 70s/80s regulars Pamela Shoop (Halloween II), Robert Pine (CHiPs and father of Chris “Captain Kirk” Pine) and Albert Salmi (Superstition). There is a some cheesy over-acting here, as well, but it is a movie about giant ants, so we’ll cut them some slack even if it butts against Gordon’s too serious tone.
Overall, much like Food Of The Gods there is some fun to be had here, but certainly not enough as we’d like, or, to make it a real B-Movie treat. Sure there is cheesy FX and dialog to laugh at, as well as, the added nostalgia of the 70s stereotypes that make up the film’s characters, but the film forgets to have a little fun and Gordon doesn’t give it the charm of his earlier works. An amusing watch that would definitely be helped by a few brews and a visit from the MST3K gang.
A Hong Kong actioneer with Michael Biehn, Maggie Q and Hong Kong Cinema legends Sammo Hung and Simon Yam that is also produced by Steven Seagal…sounds too good to be true…and sadly, to a degree, it kinda is. The before mentioned stars are not the main focus, only Biehn and Hung have considerable screen time. It’s really a showcase for a bunch of young actors playing a crack Interpol squad out to catch the bad guys. Maggie Q and Biehn are among the villains and Hung is the nurturing veteran cop, while Yam is barely on screen as a harried police chief. We watch these Hong Kong flicks for action and while there isn’t as much as we’d like, the action there is can be quite bloody. Unnecessarily so at times, but the Hong Kong cinema has always had a tendency for overindulgence and that’s kinda why we like it.
This action thriller is also slowed down by too much over-stylized camera tricks. Director/co-writer (with Lau Ho-Leung) Daniel Lee went to film school and wants everyone to know it. All the distracting camera work hinders the action at times and slows down the drama. Too many grainy black and white flashbacks or jittery hand held camera shots. It really slows down the pace. Scenes seem to take twice as long as they should. The script also likes to stop the story dead, at times, to focus on sub plots, like Biehn’s relationship with a gangster’s girlfriend (Li Bingbing). It’s important to the plot, but still seriously slows down a film that cries out for a quicker pace. Veterans like John Woo and Tsui Hark knew how to balance the drama and the action perfectly. Lee could take a few tips from those masters. Not to say this tale of Interpol cops vs a squad of tough as nails bad guys doesn’t have entertainment value, it does, as it tries to be something in the vein of Michael Mann’s Heat. Lee does still succeed in pulling off a couple of strong shoot-out sequences (ex: an alley shoot out about 2/3 through) despite his over-stylizing everything and I dug the blood-soaked final showdown. As usual with Hong Kong flicks, there is some beautiful cinematography, this time by Tony Cheung.
In the end, it still falls very short of some of the more classic Hong Kong action flicks like Hard Boiled or Infernal Affairs. Not great, but there are worse ways to spend an evening and certainly worth a look if you are a Hong Kong Action Cinema nut like me…and the cast is worth watching it for alone, even if it’s far from perfect.
A legend in the world of film has passed away. The great Eli Wallach died on Tuesday at the age of 98! Wallach had not only over 150 movie roles but was active in theater as well. He starred in many classics but, is most fondly remembered for his part as “Tuco” in the classic Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. He leaves behind a legacy of work that lasted from 1956 to 2010 when he made his last film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. A Brooklyn native, Wallach passed away in New York… a true legend!
It’s been almost 9 years since writer/director Greg McLean unleashed psychotic Outback maniac Mick Taylor on the horror film world with his disturbing and very effective Wolf Creek, but finally McLean returns to the character that got him some well-earned attention. But while Mick is back, I felt the effectiveness and gritty and frightening realism of the first flick is not, as this sequel is basically a series of gory, over-the-top vignettes that are tied together with the thinest of stories and Mick has already become a parody of himself as with other film maniacs like Krueger and Voorhees.
Sequel starts out with two Australian highway patrolmen making the fatal mistake of harassing ‘redneck’ Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) over a fabricated speeding offense and finding out the hard and gruesome way that this was a big mistake. The film then focuses for about a 1/2 hour on a couple of German tourists Katarina and Rutger (Shannon Ashlyn and Phillipe Klaus) hitchhiking across the Outback and wandering into the Wolf Creek Crater area which is Mick’s domain and obviously crossing path’s with the sadistic cannibal with gory results. The film then segues to British tourist Paul (Ryan Corr) who almost literally runs into Katarina while driving through the area and the rest of the film becomes a Mad Max/ torture porn hybrid as Mick pursues Paul across the wilderness then torments the young British man back at his torture chamber/ lair. Yea, ummm… pick a story or main character will ya, mate!
I won’t say Wolf Creek 2 is badly made or directed, it’s not. On a technical level it is very strong. Taken individually the scenes are well staged and effective, especially the Road Warrior segment of the film, but it’s when you try to add these segments together into a complete movie that you realize this flick has no real story. It’s practically an anthology film patched together to showcase the homicidal and sadistic antics of Mick and by taking almost an hour to decide on a main character, we have no character focus until then, save Mick and the random situations he’s put in to allow him to slaughter. And another thing that bothered me is that McLean and Aaron Sterns’ script not only lacks focus, but turns Mick from a very gritty and frighteningly real psychopathic character to a one liner spewing almost parody of himself, who will gleefully engage in a sing-a-long with a potential victim with the same gusto which he then removes said victim’s fingers with a sander. He’s like a an Outback version of The Joker or an Aussie Freddy Krueger instead of the chillingly realistic madman that creeped us out the first time. That Mick was scary because he was believable, this over the top Mick could only exist in a movie and, while Jarratt is certainly having a blast with him, he’s reduced to the same kind of demented, entertaining anti-hero that Freddy and Jason became in their later flicks…and he’s placed in a film that is far more interested in showing off his routine then actually telling a frightening story. There are some very effective scenes, but when strung together, a complete film it barely makes and while the first film was not subtle, it used it’s bloodletting wisely. Here blood and body parts fly with almost Re-animator like abandon from almost the first scene…not that I mind a good gore-fest, but it goes against the more grounded tone of Wolf Creekpart 1.
The two leads are actually very good. Jarratt is really having a good time taking the sadistic rapist/murderer/cannibal way over the top and the character is entertaining in a twisted way, though completely abandons the aura of being a realistic lunatic that one might actually meet in an out-of-the way place, or lonely road. He chews up the scenery with the same enthusiasm that he carves up his victims and while it works on one level, it makes a caricature out of someone we came to fear and despise in the first film, on another. He only seems like his old self in his scenes with the pretty Katarina and that only lasts for about ten minutes. Ryan Corr gives us a sympathetic character in Paul who, once the film settles down and focuses on it’s central victim, makes a good sparring partner with Mick as, despite being frightened out of his mind, he tries to outwit and escape his deranged captor. It’s too bad we didn’t get more time to get to know him, but Corr does good in creating a likable character with limited intro time. The two work well together and it’s sad that the film takes over an hour to get these two engaged in their game of cat and mouse that is waged both mentally and physically. The film only really locks it in then, even though it basically becomes a routine torture torment show once this happens and that is nothing new at this point. The rest of the cast are generic victims who we barely get to know and only serve as Mick fodder till the film finally decides where it wants to go in it’s last act.
So, despite being well acted and well directed, Wolf Creek 2 is an effective series of vignettes that fail to come together to make an equally effective film. It’s a film as schizophrenic as it’s star psycho that takes far too long to find it’s focus and thus draw us in and then it’s over too quickly and with a very unsatisfying climax. While Jarratt gives a strong performance, his Mick is turned from a grounded and frighteningly realistic psychopath to a joke cracking, sadistic oddball that is almost a parody of the Mick from the first film. Greg McLean is a talented filmmaker, but here he got a little too giddy with unleashing his most famous creation back on movie audiences and forgot that Mick’s antics need a strong story to be showcased in to be effective as they were the first time round. Brutally entertaining, but not scary, nor will it stay with you after the credits roll like the first film.
Madison County’s biggest flaw as a horror film is not what it does, but what it doesn’t do. And that is deviate at all from the backwoods horror sub-genre formula in any way. The movie closely follows the cliché blueprint of getting five attractive twenty-somethings to a secluded rural area where they can be placed in proximity with the traditional deranged locals. In this case they are going to research a book about a serial killer who may, or may not, exist in secluded, rustic Madison County…and it’s no secret that they don’t like what their research turns up.
Director/writer Eric England seems to have seen enough of these films to put one together very competently on a technical level. There is some nice production value for a flick reportedly made for around $70,000. The visuals are fine and creepy and he does create some nice atmosphere and some tension. His cast of young attractive characters… Joanna Sotomura as Brooke, Colley Bailey as James, Matt Mercer as Will, Ace Marrero as Kyle and Natalie Scheetz as Jenna…are likable enough and there is some blood splattered on them once things get going. But England follows the formula so closely that there aren’t many surprises. You know the locals are suspicious and strange for a reason and that there really is no question as to whether the killer really exists. His leads, while likable, are not overly interesting or especially endearing and we should care about them a bit more. The locals are generic creepy hillbillies and the villains are never given enough screen time to build their characters and thus aren’t that frightening. They never rise above the cliché evil redneck stereotype and we just can’t generate enough interest in them to make them stand out as memorable villains. Even the pig-masked killer, Damien Ewell (Nick Principe), that is the main nut job, is very ho-hum, even when on the attack. It’s as if England thought a pig mask was enough to create character and menace. It’s creepy, but not character building. And, as far as these films go, Madison County is bit too tame. In this case a little over the top would have been welcome as nothing grabs us, shocks us or horrifies us. There is blood, but it is basically some routine stabbings and ax wounds. And since we’ve waited till the last act to get to the good stuff, we feel a bit cheated by what little we get and how soon it’s over. (With credits, Madison County is barely over 80 minutes.) If you are going to present a classic scenario like this, shake things up a bit (ex. Cabin In The Woods). Or at the very least, throw all the classic elements at us with a bit of good old fashioned ferocity and some over the top blood spurting. Just look at the generic but really fun Wrong Turn, nothing new, but it had some real intensity and a bit of a sick sense of humor to boot. This film could have used a bit more gusto like that one. The potential was there.
While for a horror flick, Madison County may be a bit too laid back, I did still enjoy it to a decent degree. I don’t think Eric England is a bad filmmaker at all. He can create tension and atmosphere and I’ve certainly seen far, far worse then Madison County, but he needs to learn that innovation is far more effective then imitation when it comes to the horror movies he obviously enjoys. And if you can’t innovate, throw some blood and carnage in our faces to keep us awake, present the traditional elements with some real enthusiasm and let us have a good time with it. Madison County is still a mildly enjoyable horror, but I think England has the potential to deliver much more. He has a few more films now under his belt, including the flick Contracted, which I heard good things about, and hope to catch up to shortly. We’ll see.
UPDATE: I caught up with Contractedand you can click on the title to see what I thought!
3 chainsaws… I have a soft spot for these kind of flicks and England does make a good effort.
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Don Coscarelli is definitely a favorite filmmaker of mine as his Phantasm is one of my all-time favorite horrors. He is very clever and inventive and achieves a lot on a small budget. Beastmaster is the largest budgeted film he has made so far in his career with a modest, even by 1982 standards, $8 million price tag…and maybe that’s why, to me it’s his least satisfying. The film has a bit of a cult following and I do feel it has its entertainment value, but it’s simply my least favorite of his works and in my opinion his least inspired. Maybe it’s because I had seen the bigger budgeted and far more blood-thirsty Conan the Barbarian just a few months earlier and was disappointed by this tame PG rated fare, or maybe Coscarelli’s off kilter style just didn’t fit with a more mainstream ‘Hollywood’ fantasy production. Whatever the reason, upon a recent re-visit, after not having seen it in literally decades, I find my opinion really hasn’t changed that much even with some added 80s nostalgia.
Coscarelli’s first film after Phantasm tells the story of a warrior named Dar (Marc Singer) who was prophesied before birth to be the one to bring down the power-hungry Jun high priest Maax (Rip Torn). Dar was stolen from his mother’s womb by one of Maax’s witch servants to be sacrificed but is saved from death by a traveling villager (Ben Hammer) who then raises him as his own. When he comes to manhood, his village is destroyed by the Jun Horde and only Dar, who has had the ability to communicate with animals since birth, survives. Now the young warrior sets out on a path of vengeance to destroy the Juns and their leader along with a black tiger, an eagle and two thieving ferrets. During his quest he finds human allies in the warrior Seth (John Amos) and deposed king’s son Tal (Josh Milrad) along with a love interest in the beautiful slave girl Kiri (Tanya Roberts). But with his band of two and four legged friends, will it be enough to defeat the sorcerer-like Maax and his horde of vicious warriors?
At almost 2 hours, Beastmaster has a rather moderate pace and despite some inventive touches, from the script Coscarelli co-wrote with Paul Pepperman, the plot is a little too close to the high-profile Schwarzenegger sword and sorcery flick released just a few months earlier. Despite the healthy budget, in comparison to Coscarelli’s previous films, it seems to attempt a little too much on its modest funds and looks rather cheap like a TV movie or Saturday morning TV show episode. There are some interesting fantasy characters, and inventive touches and ideas throughout, but the film on a whole is slow moving and really doesn’t liven up till the final confrontation with the Jun Horde in a battle involving a flaming moat. Till then, the action is rather routine and there isn’t much excitement in the fight choreography. The acting across the board is also rather flat and the main characters never really become all that endearing or involving except for the animals, especially the two ferrets who steal the film from basically everybody. The FX are adequate, but many look cheesy, especially by today’s standards, and the forgettable score by Lee Holdridge doesn’t help either. Coscarelli just doesn’t seem suited to the Fantasy genre as the film never even achieves that quirky energy or off-beat sense of humor that his horror films are famous for. It’s a watchable film and the 80s charm does kick in a bit, but it’s a very routine movie from a very inventive filmmaker. Very forgettable from a man whose other movies are anything but.
As stated, the human cast are very flat. Marc Singer is a well-built enough hero, but he never really exudes the kind of charm or intensity that a hero of this type of film needs…especially when compared to Arnie’s Conan or Lee Horsley’s Talon from The Sword and The Sorcerer, which also came out a few months earlier and had far more fun with the genre and its story. Roberts is very pretty, but again, really doesn’t give her Kiri much life or make her memorable, other than some brief nudity in a bathing scene. The usually reliable Rip Torn is a completely generic and dull villain with his Maax never exuding much threat, especially when we can’t get past his unnecessary prosthetic nose and the cute skull beads in his braided hair. A strong villain would have helped here a lot, but Maax is simply lame and never appears imposing or all that dangerous. The rest of the cast including TV vet John Amos don’t fare much better and some lively performances of a delightfully over the top manner would have helped greatly. Coscarelli got good work out of villainous Angus Scrimm and the delightful Reggie Bannister in the Phantasm films, so not sure what happened here. The animals outperform the humans in every scene.
So, I respect those who honor this as an underrated cult classic and I can’t say the film is not worth a look. There are some entertaining sequences, especially during the last act, but the film just simply lacks the quirky energy and devious fun of Coscarelli’s other movies and it sure could have used either Conan the Barbarian‘s intensity and blood lust, or The Sword and the Sorcerer‘s over the top, tongue in cheek approach. It’s now got some 80s nostalgia to help it along, but best scenes still involve the beasts, the film simply takes itself a bit too seriously and the PG rating really holds back on the more exploitive and fun elements it could have used. Possibly the least unique film from a filmmaker whose career is filled with unique and entertaining flicks.
MONSTERZERO NJ PERSONAL NOSTALGIA: In 1981, a year before I saw Beastmaster, and knew who actor Marc Singer was, I met legendary actor Danny Aiello, at a movie theater no less, and he told me that I resembled a young, up and coming actor named Marc Singer…that and many years later I would have quite a few pet ferrets of my own, gives this film nostalgic weight with me despite my not really being all that fond of it.
I know I have covered these two ‘so bad it’s good’ 70s flicks before but, they do make a great pair with their bad acting, awful dialog and delightfully charming stop motion animation FX work by the late, great David Allen and SPFX make-up and prosthetics from Steve Neill. With a few brews, these two cult classics can be a lot of fun even without being mocked by the MST3K gang!
THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER (1977)
I’ll start out by saying this isn’t a good movie in the conventional sense, but I love monster movies, especially the old fashioned stop motion animation ones and, as you may know by now, I do love a ‘so bad it’s good’ flick. So I cut this movie a lot of slack. Plus, it does have a bit of personal nostalgia for me as I saw it at the Showboat Cinema in Edgewater N.J. when it first came out in 1977.
Low budget sci-fi/horror begins as a meteor crashes into a California mountain lake by a remote rural town. The lake temperature rises and a long dormant plesiosaur egg hatches and 6 months later we have a giant prehistoric monster on the loose feeding on the local livestock and any inhabitants who get near the water. It’s now up to Sheriff Steven Hanson (Richard Cardella who also co-wrote) to try to find a way to stop the rampaging beast who is making a meal out of locals and tourists alike.
The Crater Lake Monster has a good B-movie plot that is wasted by the totally amateurish handling of the production by director and co-writer William R. Stromberg. If the lame attempts at suspense aren’t enough, the weak dialog, awful acting and ridiculous attempts at comic relief by two good ole boys who rent boats (Mark Siegel and Glen Roberts), put the nail in coffin of this flick’s potential as a serious B-movie horror treat and catapults it into ‘so bad it’s good’ territory…though it’s on thin ice there, too. *Cardella claims the withdrawal of funds and hiring of a terrible editor by Crown International Pictures was the cause of the film’s ruin, but neither of these reasons explain how sub-par everything, other than David Allen’s cool stop motion animated dinosaur, is done. The title creature is a fine bit of FX from the under appreciated Allen, but doesn’t have quite enough screen time to make up for the film’s flaws and even it’s climactic battle with a snow plow is far too short to live up to it’s entertainment potential.
But there is definitely some fun to be had at the incompetent film-making here and there is definitely some 70s nostalgia to enjoy, but how much you enjoy it depends on just how tolerant you are of a bad movie like this. I enjoy them for what they are and I like this flick for all it’s badness and there is a cool beastie. With a couple of brews this can be a good time, if that’s your thing. It definitely is mine. In an era of senseless remakes, this is a title screaming to be turned into a better movie by more talented hands, but they sadly don’t make movies like this anymore, at least not with the kind of charm flicks like this had. And despite all Crater Lake‘s flaws, it still has it’s heart in the right place and plenty of charm. And that goes a long way with a movie geek like me. A guilty pleasure for sure but, a fun one.
MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The full size creature head was made by Steve Neill, another unsung hero of movie make-up and prosthetic FX.
Laserblast is a low budget sci-fi thriller from Charles Band that actually could have been a decent B-movie had it been in more competent hands instead of becoming one of MST3K’s funniest episodes. Even still, it is a guilty pleasure of mine and carries the nostalgia of being one of the flicks seen at my beloved Oritani Theater in Hackensack, NJ.
Laserblast opens as an alien outlaw is being pursued on Earth across a desert. After a brief firefight, the reptilian space cops (some cool stop motion FX from the late David Allen with the outlaw’s and alien possessed Billy’s make-up FX by Steve Neill) blast the alien bad guy, but in an effort to avoid detection, are forced to flee and the alien’s weapon is left behind. Enter troubled teen Billy (Kim Milford) who, aside from his girlfriend (70s exploitation queen, Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith), is picked on by almost everyone in town including, the pot smoking cops. Obviously fate puts the alien weapon in Billy’s hands and now he has the power to get back at those who abuse him. With the alien weapon transforming him into something unearthly, can Billy be stopped?
Laserblast is sadly directed in a pedestrian manner by Michael Rae…from a script by Frank Ray Perilli and Franne Schacht…and a little energy would have helped a lot as even Billy’s climactic rampage (if blowing up a few cars and a mailbox is a rampage) is very by-the-numbers and lacks any suspense. Rae’s idea of dramatic intensity is to show the same explosion over and over in slow motion from multiple camera angles and have star Milford overact when under alien influence. And speaking of the acting, the performances range from bland to bad with even cameos from vets Keenan Wynn and Roddy McDowall being obvious paycheck grabs.The casting is also odd in the case of Milford who is too good looking and well built to be believable as the ‘picked on kid’ especially, when nerd legend Eddie Deezen (his first flick), is cast as one of the bullies. Love to ask the casting director what the inspiration was for that casting, aside from booze. But the cast isn’t totally to blame as the laughably bad dialog from the weak script isn’t going to help anyone’s performance especially, when the director doesn’t seem to be giving much inspiration. At least David Allen provides some good stop motion effects and FX model making legend Greg Jein gave us a cool alien spacecraft for such a low budget flick, that and things are blown up quite frequently.
Despite all it’s flaws, I still think there is a ‘so bad it’s good’ charm here and a lot of entertainment can be had from the epic fail of it all. And as stated before, the film does have the previously stated nostalgia element for me personally. So I would recommend it to those who love to have a good bad movie along with their six pack or simply enjoy laughing at a cheesy 70s low budget Sci-Fi flick that aims high and fails in entertaining fashion.
Rated a ‘so bad it’s good’ 3 (out of 4) stop motion alien cops.